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Your Rights During Virginia Criminal Investigations

Although you may feel frightened or intimidated if contacted by police, it is important you know what legal rights you possess and exercise them when necessary to avoid incriminating yourself in anyway. Below is more on what your rights are when interacting with police in certain situations and when law enforcement may have the right to conduct a search. To learn more or discuss whether you were searched legally, consult with a Virginia criminal defense lawyer today.

When Police Come To Your Door

Different types of searches have different expectations of privacy. You have the highest expectation of privacy in your own home. To search your home, the officer typically must have a search warrant or exigent (emergency) circumstances. Therefore, when police come to your door and they do not have a search warrant or probable cause to enter your residence, you may politely avoid answering any questions that they have. If there is no probable cause to enter your residence, then you may politely decline to allow them to enter your residence.

Under other circumstances, the officers may come to your house with a warrant or with probable cause for a search. If they have either of these things, you should contact an experienced criminal defense attorney right away to discuss your options at that moment. However, you should never feel that simply the officer’s presence is forcing you to do anything you don’t want to do. You should absolutely feel free to exercise your rights to refuse to answer any questions that they have.

You should never physically interfere with the police. You will likely be arrested for obstruction of justice and they will conduct their search anyway. If you feel a search is being conducted illegally, you should clearly observe what takes place and allow your attorney the best possible chance to resolve it in your favor. Above all, you should protect your right to remain silent: that means you shouldn’t answer any questions that aren’t necessary to identify yourself.

Why Shouldn’t I Let Them In and Show Them I Have Nothing to Hide?

If officers show up at your door and are asking you questions, you really don’t know what they are looking for. They may be looking for something that you do not know is in your house at all. Perhaps someone’s illegal activities are happening that you don’t know about and maybe they are investigating you. You can’t really be sure what is going to happen if you allow officers into your house. Generally, it is a good idea to exercise your constitutional rights and politely ask them to leave.

You have the same rights regarding a police officer at your door as any other citizen or solicitor. If the police don’t have a warrant, you don’t have any obligation to let them in or answer any questions. You should always keep in mind that a police officer’s job is to gather evidence against you. Even if you have nothing to hide, you probably don’t want to talk with people in your home who are trying to gather evidence against you.

Your Rights if Stopped On The Street

It is lawful, despite commonly held beliefs to the contrary, for a law enforcement officer to stop you on the street for no reason.  They can ask you questions, ask for ID, and even request a patdown under many circumstances.  This is known as a “Terry stop” and it follows the jurisprudence after the Supreme Court case of Terry v. Ohio. Under this case law doctrine, the officer may conduct a brief talk in private. After a Terry Stop you may ask the officer if you are free to leave and you can be on your way. If you choose to continue the conversation with an officer, then it is often called a confessional encounter.

It is not uncommon for the person being stopped to feel that it is not a consensual encounter even though police officers say it is. You have the right to remain silent, and although you need to identify yourself in a wide range of circumstances, you do not typically have to answer other questions and you can exercise your right to remain silent. You should ask if you are free to leave, but you should not continue to ask for clarification if you don’t get the answer you want.

If you feel you are being patted down or searched illegally, you should never take any physical action to impede the police because you will likely be arrested and charged with obstruction of justice, and they will complete the search anyway. It is almost always best to allow your attorney to work with the facts.

Vehicle Searches

With your vehicle you have a lesser expectation of personal privacy because you are likely to use your vehicle to travel on the public roads, and an officer may search your vehicle with probable cause. Even if he didn’t have a probable cause, if the officer simply had a reasonable, articulable suspicion to stop your vehicle, such as you committed a traffic or equipment violation, the officer then may approach your vehicle and ask for a consent to search. The officer may also approach your vehicle and upon discussing certain facts and circumstances may gain probable cause to search your vehicle. Probable cause may exist in circumstances in which they notice an odor of illegal drugs, notice contraband in your vehicle or the like.

If a police officer asks for your consent to search your vehicle, you may absolutely refuse to give the officer consent. You can feel free to exercise your right to not consent to a search, politely tell the officer no and be on your way to where you were going. You should not feel that you are obliged to give consent because it is the right thing to do or because the officer was nice to you. Consent to search a vehicle is consent to waive your Fourth Amendment rights.

You should exercise your Fourth Amendment rights, decline to give consent to the officer, simply ask for the traffic stop to be concluded and go.

In many cases, an officer will want to delay a traffic stop and ask questions in order to develop probably cause to search. You should remember that you have the right to remain silent. Many people make the mistake of trying to outwit police who are doing their routine duties and have many years of practice. If you find yourself in a sticky situation, you should typically remain silent and give your attorney the best chance to fight for your rights.

Miranda Rights

Everyone who has watched a crime show on TV has most likely seen the ‘Miranda Rights’  being administered, albeit in a limited version. Typically on shows such as “Law & Order” the Miranda Rights are read as soon as someone is placed under custody. In reality, this is not always the case.

There are many exceptions to the Miranda requirements. One of the main exceptions common for someone to encounter is that the Miranda Rights do not need to be read during the course of a DUI investigation. This is one of the common exceptions.

Miranda rights only apply when you are being interrogated while you are in custody. If your Miranda rights are violated, you can often file a motion to suppress which argues that evidence was gathered by violating your rights and that evidence should not be used against you in court. An experienced attorney can use a Motion to Suppress to help change the outcome of your case.

Other Common Misconceptions

There are additional misconceptions about Miranda Rights, including when they are read. They are not always read immediately after someone is placed under custody. The reason why they are not always read immediately is because the officers may not ask questions relating to the offense. Initially, they are not always read prior to arrest, and in some cases, they are not read at all.

Another common misconception about the Miranda Rights is that failure to read you your Miranda Rights will result in the dismissal of the case. This is typically not true. What Miranda Rights do is provide assurances so if you are not informed of your rights the statements that you make while in custody or its equivalent cannot be used against you. In a practical context, if you are not read your Miranda Rights and you do not make any statements that can then be used against you, and the lack of reading Miranda Rights will not matter.

There are very limited circumstances in which the Miranda Rights apply. Typically, it applies in the context of someone being interrogated, or being asked questions, after they are placed under arrest or placed in custodial equivalent of an arrest. Call today to learn more about your rights.

Patrick Woolley Attorney At Law

Patrick Woolley Attorney At Law
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