Dealing with the police can be a stressful experience, especially when you know you have done nothing wrong. The important thing to remember in any police encounter, whether it is a traffic stop or an officer approaching you on the street, is to remain calm, understand your rights, and be firm-yet-polite in asserting those rights.
The Importance of the Right to Remain Silent
Most of time, when a cop pulls you over on the road, it is for a routine traffic issue–speeding, a broken tail light, et cetera. The officer is not looking for a confrontation. Do not create one yourself, either by being rude or refusing to comply with legal requests for information.
Driving is a privilege, not a right, so a police officer does have a right to ask you for your driver’s license, insurance information, and automobile registration during a traffic stop. However, you do not have to provide any additional information or answer questions such as, “Where were you going?”
You have no doubt heard on countless cop shows over the years that a person has the “right to remain silent” and that “anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” This does not just mean anything you see after you are arrested or in police interrogation. Anything you say at any point to a police officer is potential evidence.
This means, for instance, if a cop asks you, “Do you know how fast you were going?”, you do not have to answer. And if you do, the cop can either use that as an admission of guilt–“Yes, I was speeding”–or even proof that you are lying. If you say nothing, the burden is on the officer to prove you did something illegal.
Florida’s “Stop and Frisk” Rules
But what if you are just walking down the street. Can an officer stop you and demand to see identification? The answer to that question depends on the circumstances.
Florida has what is known as a “stop and frisk” law. This allows a police officer to “temporarily detain” a person and ascertain their identity–i.e., require them to produce ID–if the officer “reasonably” believes the person “has committed, was committing, or was about to commit a criminal offense.” Once the officer determines there is no “probable cause” to arrest the person, the detention must end.
If you are approached by a police officer, you need to make sure this is, in fact, a stop-and-frisk detention. You should ask, “Am I free to go?” It is important to ask because otherwise, the officer may assume you are speaking with him or her voluntarily. If the officer tells you this is a stop-and-frisk, you can invoke your constitutional right to remain silent.
Tell Them to Get a Warrant
Police officers are trained to obtain as much information as possible. For instance, during a seemingly routine traffic stop, an experienced officer will look for any evidence of illegal drugs in a vehicle. To that end, the officer may politely ask you if it is okay to “take a look inside” your vehicle.
You should always decline such a request. Unless there is something in plain view–i.e., drugs or an open container of beer on the front seat–a police officer must get a warrant from a Florida judge before searching your car without your consent. Telling an officer to get a warrant is not being difficult; it merely tells them they need to follow proper constitutional procedures.
Do You Need Help From an Orlando Criminal Defense Lawyer?
One final rule of etiquette: Never take any aggressive action. Obviously you should never touch or attack a police officer. But you should also avoid any sudden movements that may be misconstrued as aggressive. For instance, if an officer asks you for your registration, tell her, “I need to get it out of my glove compartment.” Do not just reach into the glove compartment–the officer may assume you are going for a hidden weapon.
If you have been arrested or charged with a crime following a police encounter, keep in mind you have the right to be represented by a qualified Orlando criminal defense attorney. Contact Moses & Rooth, Attorneys at Law, at 407-377-0150 if you need to speak with a lawyer right away.