Encounters with Law Enforcement Authorities: Knowing Your Civil Rights

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Some 54 years ago, there were the Selma protest marches when African Americans staked claims to their right to vote and protested the segregation repression in the south. These protests were critical moments in the American civil rights movements. Fast forward to 2014, the Ferguson unrest or the Ferguson riot took place in Ferguson, Missouri, to protest the shooting of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson.

Selma and Ferguson were significant events that gathered national attention and media coverage, highlighting tensions between law enforcement officers and people in the minority group. Often, the issue that surfaces are about the violation of an individual’s or a group’s civil rights as protected by the constitution.

But tensions and encounters between the authorities and regular people happen daily. You’re an attorney for a firm specializing in motorcycle injury, personal injury, and civil rights. You’re asked frequently about what a citizen’s rights are when confronted by law enforcement agents.

The 14th Amendment and Civil Rights

The 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the willful violation of a person’s life, liberty, or property. These three concepts embody the main principles governing civil rights in America. Regardless of any suspicion of possible wrongdoing, the 14th amendment stipulates that law enforcement agents must follow due process, which, for example, includes informing citizens of their right to remain silent during an arrest or the right to be presented with a warrant before searching their private premises.

Your Rights

lawyer writing on his notebookPolice will stop some 20 million motorists annually. This is roughly 50,000 drivers on a typical day. Once stopped, the chances of blacks and Hispanics being searched is double than that of white people. Whether you’re stopped or searched, here are a few things that you should know about your rights:

  1. More than the police. Apart from the local police, expect government agents from the FBI, Homeland Security, the DEA, or the Joint Terrorism Task Force to question you during an encounter. Don’t assume that they are indeed agents. Ask them for proper identification.
  2. Being stopped. You’ve seen this on dozens of TV shows — a police officer stopping a casual citizen. When stopped, remain calm and keep both hands visible by holding on to the steering wheel. If asked, you must present your driver’s license and registration. You don’t have to answer any probing questions they might have, nor are they allow to search your vehicle unless there is probable cause.
  3. Miranda rights. If the interaction leads to an arrest, remember that you have the right to remain silent. And law enforcement officers should remind you of this right.
  4. At your home. Unless the police or other government agents have a proper warrant signed by a judge, they do not have the authority to enter and search your home or other private premises. Upon knocking, do not open the door immediately, but instead, ask if they have a warrant and to slip it under the door quickly if they do have one.

These are but a few concepts you should know by heart. If you have done nothing wrong, your rights as guaranteed by the U.S. constitution.

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