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Common Mistakes when dealing with law enforcement

Posted by attorney Shari Goldsberry

One of the things I want to do with blog is highlight for people some of the most common mistakes people make in dealing with the police. We’re going to cover two of them today, lying the police, and consenting to a search.

As a criminal defense attorney, the most I can ever ask of a client is that they try to avoid hurting their own case. This can happen in any number of ways, but one of the most prevalent is telling police officers a lie that is easily checkable. Most people’s encounter with police begins as a traffic stop, and police officers will often ask you where you’re coming from. What most people don’t know is that you don’t have any obligation to answer that question. It goes without saying that you are going to come out with a better resolution to the stop the more information you’re willing to give the police.

However, many people, if they feel that a truthful answer will hurt them, choose to lie. It can be as simple as the reason they’re speeding. Officers will often ask you if there is some kind of emergency. It can be tempting to say yes, but if you give a reason that the officer can’t verify, they’re going to treat you with far more suspicion, and at the very least, keep you there far longer than is convenient. Another reason to avoid lying to police officers is that if you’re caught lying, there’s a good chance you’re giving them the legal authority they need to search you, your vehicle, or your surroundings, for evidence of illegal activity. And if they find something, you will have to deal with the consequences of that lie later in court.

So here’s a tip. If an honest answer to an officer’s question is going to hurt you, just say nothing at all. It may not be forthcoming, but you have a right to remain silent at all times, and sometimes it’s better if you choose to exercise that option.

When an officer suspects that someone might be up to something, they’ll often ask for your consent to search your person or your vehicle. At this stage they usually do not yet have the legal justification they need to do the search, but if you give them permission, the legal rules don’t really matter. As a defense attorney, it never fails to surprise me when someone is stopped, asked if they’ll consent to a search, and give consent, knowing that they have illegal items in their vehicle. The officers may even try to encourage you by making you think that granting consent will get you out of the encounter faster. This is almost never going to be the case. When an officer asks you for consent, they’re really asking you to save them some work – the process of requesting and getting a warrant to search. Depending on their level of suspicion, the officer may know that he or she cannot get a warrant on the evidence they already have. Unless you’re absolutely certain that you don’t have anything illegal on you or in your vehicle, you’re better off making them do the work.

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