If you are flagged down by the police you may suffer the jitters and your mind may undergo a kaleidoscopic range of emotions because there is a whole Pandora’s Box of criminal charges that could open up with far reaching consequences. You stand a better chance of emerging unscathed if you are fully aware of your rights under the constitution when the police stop and question you by the road side. There are broadly three scenarios that open up when the police fag you down – you may have violated some traffic law, or the police suspect that there is suspicious behavior indicative of a criminal act, or the police are in the process of apprehending what they believe to be a known criminal suspect following an All Points Bulletin.
The police do enjoy the right to question any individual and this privilege is not exclusively reserved for the arrested criminal. The law enforcement authorities can question a person if it is suspected that the individual is displaying activity or behavior that is suspicious or questionable.
The police officer can perform a Terry Stop, which is to pursue a line of questioning where there is reasonable ground to believe that the suspect is engaged in behaviors that may indicate criminal intent. This is just a short questioning session not necessarily leading to arrest and its primary intention is to allay suspicions. Needless to say, arrest will follow only if suspicions are confirmed and criminal intent is ascertainable. There are definitive rules for conducting a Terry Stop. The police can frisk the suspect for weapons and also physically remove any item that they believe could be used as a weapon. The exception is that the police cannot remove an item that is not a classified weapon or any other item even if that pertains to contraband or something perceived to be illegal.
Having watched innumerable TV serials and detective movies one gets the impression that the typical arrest scenario unfolds after rendition of the suspect’s Miranda Rights, but this may not always be the case. The suspect may never hear the proclamation that he is arrested or get to listen to his Miranda Rights, and could still be considered as being under arrest. Not being permitted to move from the spot for a lengthier span of time, an act amounting to a compulsory detention, can be considered as a sign of being under arrest. If the suspect finds himself bundled into a waiting police car, restrained and handcuffed, it is a definitive sign of being arrested.
The ruling is very clear. A police officer cannot perform a comprehensive search without the consent of the suspect. In the absence of specific consent, the police officer can only search the suspect and the car after obtaining legal permission. Hence a police officer will only search you if you have permitted him to do so, and granting that permission may not be in your best interests; you can always refuse permission politely and let your attorney do the talking.
According to the law the police officer is expected to read out the suspect’s Miranda Rights prior to any action leading to his arrest. The core rights that are sought to be explained are that the suspect can choose to remain silent during questioning till he gets an attorney to represent him, and that if he chooses to speak, what he says can be used against him in court. So if we have a situation where the rights have not been read out, and the suspect has chosen to speak out, the suspect’s self-incriminating statements will not carry any weight in court. So it would be better in the long term for the suspect to remain silent and refuse to answer questions politely if he senses that he is under arrest. As we have already stated, it’s better to allow an attorney do the talking.
If the suspect is caught at the scene of the crime, red handed, in the presence of the police officer, he could be arrested without securing a warrant. If a felony is committed and if witnesses come forward to unambiguously state that the suspect has committed the crime, a police officer can proceed to arrest the suspect without a warrant.
Even if the arrest is illegal, the suspect can still be charged for the crime and whatever evidence is produced will be admitted in due course in a court of law. However, if it is ultimately proved that the arrest was illegally performed, the questions addressed to the suspect and his responses and accumulated evidences will become entirely inadmissible in court. If subsequently it is revealed that the suspect, now illegally arrested, had outstanding warrants against him, he can still be detained for the other criminal charges pending against him regardless of the illegality of his present arrest.
The constitution has guaranteed clear cut liberties that every citizen enjoys. It is in our best interests that we understand precisely how the law permits us to protect our interests. Knowing these crucial points will go a long way in helping us to deal correctly with law enforcement authorities when we fear imminent arrest.