Recently, I was in court on a matter when I noticed a young man sitting in the courtroom waiting for his case to be called. He was on the verge of falling asleep right then and there, and wearing a t-shirt which was emblazoned with the admonition: “Keep Calm, I’m Just Drunk.”
I wasn’t able to stick around the courtroom to see what the judge’s reaction was to this defendant’s courtroom demeanor and wardrobe choice, but it was a good reminder that those charged with a crime or individuals who have just been arrested can and often do make poor decisions which can have serious negative implications on their case and their ability to defend themselves.
As such, here are four things not to do when you’ve been stopped by the police or arrested:
1. DON’T put up a fight.
As we see in the news almost every day, police can abuse their authority and act in ways that are not only violations of your rights but can also involve violence and physical and verbal abuse and harassment. While all of these behaviors are outrageous and angering, physically resisting arrest or engaging in violent behavior will not help your case.
If the police have overstepped their bounds in stopping, searching, questioning, or detaining you, your criminal defense lawyer will be able to use that conduct in your defense to get evidence or the charges themselves thrown out, and may in fact give you remedies for potential violations of your civil rights. While you should exercise your right to deny consent to a search or speak without an attorney present as discussed below, reacting violently could have a negative impact on those defenses and remedies.
2. DON’T try to talk your way out of it.
As I discuss in detail here, and as you know from watching TV and movies, when you are arrested you have the right to remain silent and anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. However familiar you may be with the right to remain silent, you may forget or be apprehensive about exercising that right if you find yourself questioned or detained by the police. Many people impulsively engage in conversation with police after a stop out of nervousness, fear, or their desire to explain that, “this is not what it looks like,” in hopes of being released. This is a risky decision with potentially damaging consequences. The more you talk, the more opportunities you have to weaken the defense of your case. You should never speak to police before consulting with an attorney.
3. DON’T consent to a search of your vehicle.
If you’ve been pulled over by the police, they may ask you whether they can search your car. There’s a reason they ask for your permission: most of the time, the police do not have the right to search your car, without a warrant. Generally speaking, a police officer may only search your vehicle under one of the following circumstances:
- The officer has a valid search warrant.
- The officer has probable cause to believe there are illegal goods in the vehicle, such as smelling marijuana or seeing a weapon or drugs in plain view.
- You are being arrested and they are impounding the car.
- You consent to the search.
Giving your consent to a search is almost always a mistake. If the cops do not have a search warrant or probable cause to examine the inside of your vehicle and you did not consent to a search, any evidence of criminal activity obtained during the search may be suppressed by a judge if criminal charges are brought against you. However, if you consent to the search, you are essentially and unnecessarily forfeiting these possible defenses.
4. DON’T try to represent yourself.
In this post, I explained why attempting to act as your own lawyer when facing criminal charges is a very bad idea. Criminal law is complicated, and the rules of procedure and evidence that can both be your enemy and your salvation are nuanced and complex. The criminal justice system sometimes moves quickly and you can easily be steamrolled without having someone by your side who knows how things work at the courthouse and knows how to get things done. A good criminal defense lawyer will also keep you from making mistakes or taking actions that could harm your defense (beyond just poor t-shirt choices). Trying to save money by representing yourself can be very costly when you consider the consequences of a criminal conviction.
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