Growing up in the 80’s, I was told many times to “just say no” if anyone offered me drugs. When I was older, girls were told they shouldn’t feel pressured by boys; that it was ok to say “no.” But one public service announcement that I never heard was that I should say no to police.
The Constitution gives us the right to say no to police, and we should. If an officer asks if he can search you, your car, your home, or anything else, you should say no. If I walked up to a total stranger and asked if I could dig around in their car to see what’s in there, I would expect them to tell me no, probably in more colorful language. But when an officer comes up to us and asks the same thing, we feel obligated to let them. They may be polite about it, they are an authority figure, they have a gun and a badge, and we want them to like us so that they don’t write us a ticket for speeding, so we just say yes. Once you say yes to a search, it’s usually not possible to keep anything they find from being used against you in court.
Last year, I was tubing with my family in New Braunfels. There were officers in the river, checking people’s coolers. As I floated past, the officer asked me, a criminal defense attorney, if he could look in my cooler, and without even thinking about it, I said, “sure.” I didn’t have anything to hide, so why not. He rummaged around my cooler, found nothing and I floated away. I regretted letting him search my cooler, because I had just waived one of my Constitutional Rights for no reason. I gained nothing by allowing him to search my cooler and if he found anything, or thought he found something, he would have arrested me or given me a ticket.
We also have the right to remain silent and not to incriminate ourselves, but again when an officer asks, “have you been drinking,” people rarely refuse to answer the question. They will freely admit that they have been drinking, how much they’ve been drinking, when they had their last drink, which bar they were coming from, and that they probably had too much to drink. They know that answering those questions does not benefit them, but they feel pressured to answer. I’m not an advocate for drinking and driving, but I do advocate for protecting your Constitutional rights and not waiving those rights for no reason.
Another important Constitutional right that you have is a right to an attorney. If an officer starts asking you questions and you’re not comfortable answering those questions for any reason, you should ask to speak to an attorney. You must request the attorney “unequivocally and unambiguously.” If you do, the officer is required to stop questioning you or get you an attorney. If he keeps questioning you, your statements may be kept out of court.
People will often say, they don’t have a problem consenting to a search or answering questions, because they have nothing to hide. What they may not realize is that innocent people are arrested every day. I have represented people arrested for drug possession, only to have the lab results show that the substance the officer thought was an illegal drug, was not. I have also represented people who have been charged with possessing prescription drugs without a prescription because the drug was not in the prescription bottle (which is not legally required). The point is, even if you are not breaking the law, you may still be arrested and charged with a crime.
If an officer ever asks to search your vehicle or anything else or if an officer is asking you questions that you don’t want to answer or know that you shouldn’t answer, pretend that officer is a creepy guy at the bar and Just Say No (and then request an attorney and remain silent).