Every criminal defense attorney in Texas has had the experience of dealing with clients who have shot themselves in the foot. Not literally, but figuratively. That’s what happens when you’re being investigated and you fail to exercise your rights under the law. Whether it’s because you aren’t familiar with your rights or you forgot to act on them, the harm can be challenging to reverse. Regardless of whether you’re guilty or not, it’s important to exercise your rights to get fair treatment. Even if you’re innocent, it’s vital to know and use your rights and not just assume everything will be okay.
The Basic Rights
There are four basic rights you have when you’re the target of a police investigation. These are:
- The right to privacy
- The right to leave
- The right to counsel
- The right to remain silent
Most people are familiar with the last right, because it’s included in the Miranda warning that is typically read on arrest. The others aren’t quite as clear, so I’m going to cover them in detail.
The Right to Privacy
According to the Fourth Amendment, you have the right to secure your person, home, papers and effects against search and seizure, unless a warrant is produced. If the police don’t have a warrant, don’t allow them to search anything without consulting a qualified criminal defense attorney in Texas. Warrants are only issued once the police can produce probable cause that they expect to find evidence in an active case.
Also, just because you have a previous conviction or a criminal record doesn’t mean you’ve committed a crime, and it doesn’t give police any additional reason to search. If the police ask for permission to do so, it means they don’t have a warrant. This usually indicates that they don’t have enough evidence to get one, either. You have the right to say no, and you should use it.
If the police have a warrant you are required to comply with it, but until then don’t allow any searches to take place. Judges are usually careful about issuing warrants unless convinced the police will find additional evidence during a search. Remain polite and inform them that you are exercising your right to privacy.
When you’re under arrest, your right to privacy also applies to physical evidence. You aren’t required to agree to tests such as giving blood or DNA samples. There’s one difference to this, however, and it’s a big one: If you’ve been arrested on a DWI then an in-station breathalyzer test is mandatory. If you refuse, your driver’s license will be revoked. The reason for this is because when you take out a driver’s license you sign your agreement to submit to such as test when required, so it doesn’t fall under the right to privacy rule.
The Right to Leave
In certain circumstances, an officer can stop you and ask you questions. If he thinks you may be armed they can pat you down to check for weapons, but they can only arrest you if they find probably cause that you have committed a crime. If you find yourself detained anywhere, whether it’s in your home, a police station or a public place, unless you are under arrest for probable cause you have the right to leave.
How do you find out whether you can leave? Simply ask politely “Am I under arrest?” If the answer is no, then leave immediately and contact a criminal defense attorney for advice.
The Right to Counsel
If you are under arrest, or the police tell you that you are a potential suspect and may be placed under arrest, at that point you can exercise the right to counsel. Don’t ask for your telephone call – that doesn’t apply at this point. Ask for a Texas criminal defense attorney, and the police officer should immediately make arrangements to get you one. It doesn’t always happen immediately, because sometimes attorneys are unable to drop everything right there and then, but you’re likely to get to see someone the same day.
The Right to Remain Silent
Once you’ve been read your rights anything you say can be used against you, even if the officer overhears a private telephone conversation between you and someone else. Remember all calls are recorded, too, so you have to be aware of what you’re saying.
Don’t speak to anyone about your case. If you’re guilty, telling creates evidence against you. If you’re innocent, keep quiet so nobody can make up stories against you using whatever you tell them.
The best thing you can do if you’re being investigated for a crime is to appoint a skilled criminal defense attorney in Texas to handle your case. Tell him everything and follow his advice to get the best solution to your predicament.
*Image courtesy of Carl Wycoff