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Protecting yourself from violations of your rights

Like most people in New York and across the country, you know you have rights, particularly when it comes to dealing with law enforcement. In fact, if you watch enough TV, you can probably recite the Miranda rights to remain silent and have an attorney. However, you may be like many who are not certain when someone is infringing on your constitutional rights, so when police confront you, you may be unsure how to behave.

It is true that most law enforcement officers will respect your rights and treat you with dignity. You want to be prepared, though, for the times when an officer is more concerned with making an arrest than with protecting and serving. In those moments, police may take advantage of the fact that most people do not know when someone is violating their rights.

Know your rights

Police have power. They have guns and badges, and they are trained to use their words carefully to convince you that you have no choice but to comply with their requests. It can be confusing to deal with an officer who has pulled you over or detained you. Nevertheless, you may find it helpful to have these reminders of when you do not have to submit to police requests.

  • Answering questions. Once you have given your name and identification to police, you do not have to say anything else including trying to explain why you are there or what you are doing.
  • Immigration status. You do not have to answer any police questions related to your immigration status, including where you were born or how you got to New York, but you must produce appropriate papers to an immigration agent.
  • After arrest. Once police have placed you under arrest, you do not have to answer any questions, even yes or no questions, without the advice of an attorney.
  • Warrants and probable cause. Police may not search your vehicle or home unless they have a warrant, probable cause or your consent, which it is not wise to give without the okay from your attorney.

An officer may try to get your consent by phrasing the request as a demand or coercing you. However, it is seldom a good idea to surrender your protection from an unwarranted search.

Advocates for civil rights recommend that you behave with politeness, and for your own safety, you should never make threats or resist. Remaining calm throughout your encounter can allow you to carefully observe the actions of police in case you decide to take legal action for any violation of your rights. If officers place you under arrest or you believe you are under investigation, retaining legal counsel as soon as possible is a wise move.