Know Your Legal Rights
- A Quick Reference Guide -
from No Compromise Issue 23
 

By Shannon R. Keith, Esq.

GENERAL RIGHTS YOU SHOULD ALWAYS KNOW:
  • You have the right to remain silent
  • You have the right to an attorney
  • You have a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination
  • You have a First Amendment right to freedom of speech
  • You have a Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures
QUESTIONING BY “AUTHORITIES”
If you are stopped by police, FBI, or other governmental “authorities,” remember your rights listed above, as well as these helpful hints:
  • Ask, “Am I being detained?” If the ‘authority’ says, “No,” then move on. You do not have to speak to them if you are not being detained. Do not allow them to trick you into speaking. For example, you may ask if you are being detained, and the authority may respond, “Not technically; I just want to ask you something,” or they may avoid the question completely. The best thing to do in this situation is to keep walking. Tell them that you do not wish to speak to them and that you are invoking your right to remain silent.
  • If an authority answers that you are being detained, remember that you still have the right to remain silent. They may ask for your name, social security number, address and phone. You do not have to provide this information. However, if you are subsequently arrested, you will waste a lot of time if you do not give your name and address, because they will hold you until they get it. If you don’t want to wait, the ONLY INFORMATION YOU HAVE TO GIVE IS YOUR NAME AND ADDRESS. You do not have to provide your phone number or social security number. (Note: there has been much debate over this issue. Some cases say that you must provide identification when lawfully detained, or you can be arrested for interfering with the duties of an officer. When in doubt, try to call your attorney, as many cases are fact specific.)
  • Just because you are being detained, does not mean you will be arrested.
  • Activists are routinely followed to their cars after protests. The best thing to do in this situation is keep walking and do not allow the ‘authority’ to follow you to you car and into your personal life.
  • At a protest, an ‘authority’ will almost always ask who is in charge. NEVER divulge that information, even if you think they already know. One of the biggest mistakes anyone can make is to divulge information to ‘authorities’ on the grounds that they already know the information. NEVER assume they know anything, and even if you KNOW they KNOW, make them do their homework-DON’T DO THEIR WORK FOR THEM!
WHEN THEY COME A KNOCKIN’….
The most important thing to remember is to NEVER open the door to strangers. Not only should you follow this policy, but you should tell friends, family, roommates, and co-workers to follow this policy, as well. Unfortunately, doors sometimes do get opened, and there can be unexpected visits at your workplace that you cannot control. When this happens, remember the following:
  • If you are visited at home or work by the ‘authorities,’ tell them you have nothing to say and wish to seek legal counsel.
  • Most likely, this will not deter the authorities. They will try to trick you into divulging information. One way they will do this is by playing good cop/bad cop. They might be very cordial at first, and once you assert your legal rights, they may tell you that if you don’t answer their questions you can get in “big trouble.” Do not let this frighten you. If they continue to harass you, close the door or walk away and ignore them.
  • They may also ask if you if they can come in. They may use an excuse like they need to use the bathroom or your phone. Do not let them in! Once you let them in, you have given them consent to search your home.
  • ‘Authorities’ cannot enter your home without a search warrant (absent an emergency), and they cannot arrest you without an arrest warrant (absent probable cause).
  • Any competent adult can consent to a search if it appears that s/he has the authority to give consent. That means that if your co-worker or roommate is not given the heads-up, s/he might let ‘authorities’ into your home, and IT IS LEGAL!
  • If you find that your roommate or co-worker has allowed the ‘authorities’ onto your private property, tell them that you do not consent to the search and you are contacting an attorney.
YOU ARE YOUR BEST ATTORNEY
Your attorney and legal defense or offense is only as good as you make it.
You have a responsibility to yourself and others to be observant at all times. Keep the following in mind:
  • When at a protest, always have a pad of paper and pen ready.
  • Take note of the names of activists present.
  • Take note of the number of officers, their names and badge numbers.
  • When visited by “authorities,” ask for their card. If they refuse to give you their card, ask for their name, official title, address and phone number.
  • Write down exactly what occurred, the time, date and words exchanged.
  • Take pictures and video whenever possible.

ALWAYS ASSERT YOUR RIGHTS. NEVER BE AFRAID OR EMBARRASSED TO ASSERT YOUR RIGHTS. THE MORE YOU ASSERT YOUR RIGHTS, THE MORE YOU WILL GET USED TO IT. AND NEVER-- UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES-- NEVER, EVER COMPROMISE!