Our criminal defense attorneys believe it is important to remind all people, regardless of their age, citizenship, or national origin, of their fundamental rights to be free of unreasonable searches and seizures, to remain silent, and to have the assistance of a criminal lawyer at all critical stages of a criminal matter. These rights are founded in the very fabric of our federal constitution and state-specific declaration of rights. They have been defined and expanded by our state and federal courts throughout hundreds of years of case-law. All too often however, people waive these rights either due to ignorance or the misguided belief they will be able to help themselves or protect their rights better than a criminal defense lawyer could. What people do not realize is that they are more likely than not, either adding evidence to a case the government already intends to prosecute, giving the government the evidence they finally need to bring charges, or leaving themselves at the mercy of a skilled prosecuting agency whose interests are the polar opposite of the defendant’s.
Freedom from Unlawful Searches and Seizures
We live in a free society. Law enforcement is not permitted to search or seize people based upon mere hunches. Unfortunately though, the rights to be free from unlawful searches and seizures are often unknown or misunderstood. Worse yet, they may be intentionally ignored by the police. Depending on the circumstances of a particular situation, what the police may and may not do will vary. Simple examples are that an officer can stop a person for a simple traffic violation, but can not use a civil infraction as the sole basis to order someone out of their car (in Massachusetts anyway) or to search the vehicle. Even if they have some legitimate reason to suspect the possibility of a crime, reasonable suspicion alone does not automatically warrant a search. Please understand that the rules relative to search and seizure are complex and fluctuating depending on the facts of a situation. As such, no amount of reading websites on the internet substitute for the skill and advice of experienced criminal defense attorney.
A common way around an officer’s inability to search a person, vehicle, or place without consent, is to simply ask for consent. Often, the manner of the request will suggest a person has no choice but to say yes. What many people do not know, is that you absolutely can and should refuse to consent. Although the police may accuse you of having something to hide, your refusal can never be used as a basis to justify a subsequent search. Of course, under no circumstances should you ever use physical force to prevent a search or seizure by the police. Not only would you expose yourself to criminal charges for your actions, but you would create a substantial risk that someone could get injured.
If you or someone you know has been subjected to a search and seizure by the police, it is important that a competent criminal defense attorney analyze the facts of your case, to determine if the results can be suppressed. A successful motion to suppress can often leave the government without sufficient evidence to proceed to trial in a criminal case. Even if the case does not end, the suppression can make the case much harder to prove, making your likelihood of success at trial much higher.
Right to Remain Silent
Everyone has heard the term “I plead the fifth.” That is because in our country, a person cannot be forced to give incriminating testimony against themself. This right is a fundamental principal of our Bill of Rights. As such, our state and federal courts have zealously protected this right, and established very simple but mandatory rules that police must follow. Most famous is the requirement that a police officer must explain the Miranda rights to any person subject to custodial interrogation before questioning begins. Even if a person initially waives the right to remain silent, if a person subsequently invokes the right, all questioning must stop. Whether the right was invoked from the outset or while questioning was under way, the police are not allowed to trick or coerce a person into waiving their right at anytime.
Just as important, though less often mentioned, is the rule that a person’s exercise of their right to remain silent cannot be used against them as evidence of guilt in court. Exercise of a constitutional right is not evidence of guilt. No explanation needed, and asking a suspect to justify the exercise of their right may even be enough to suppress anything said thereafter. Unfortunately though, even without police coercion, people often assume that if they do not speak, the case will be worse for them (as they will look guilty), or that by speaking, they can talk their way out of trouble. But the truth is that anything they say can and WILL be used against them in court.
Anytime you are questioned by the police, you should invoke your right to remain silent, whether you have been arrested or not. The police cannot use your silence as a basis to arrest you. Contact a criminal defense attorney and explain the situation. You or your criminal defense attorney can always contact the police and let them know if you still want to talk later. If you already made statements, it is important you consult with a criminal defense lawyer as soon as possible and while the circumstances are fresh in your mind. Key details about the manner of questioning could make the difference between your statements being suppressed or used against you.