Know Your Rights: A Quick Reference Guide from a Porter County Criminal Defense Attorney

Hopefully, you never have to deal with law enforcement throughout your entire life. Most people don’t. Well, at least, as the subject of an criminal investigation.  But chances are, at some point at some time in your life, you will be approached by an officer of law enforcement, if for no other reason, for a traffic stop.  Let’s take a quick look at typical encounters that individuals have with law enforcement and which rights attach at each particular juncture.

A ‘Simple’ Traffic Stop?

We have all probably been in this situation. A traffic stop typically begins with a law enforcement officer witnessing some traffic violation, whether that be speeding, not making a complete stop at a stop sign, not signaling properly before a turn, or not changing lanes properly.  The next thing that happens is that the police officer enters your license plate into the Indiana Bureau of Motor Vehicles database. This will tell the officer whether your vehicle is properly registered, who the registered owner is, and as well will give him or her a brief history of the owner’s driving history.  The officer will then approach the side of your vehicle and ask you to roll your window down.  He will usually ask  you for your driver’s license and registration, and ask you if you know why you have been stopped.  He or she may or may not then return to the police car to run further information about you.

At this point, the officer is conducting what is called a “field interrogation”.  During a “field interrogation” the officer may ask you a series of questions, and you are not entitled to have a lawyer present. You DO NOT have to answer them, however.  You are being temporarily detained, but the time and manner of the detention must both be reasonable.  As always, you have the right not to answer any question at any time, but you cannot lie to a police officer. Lying to a police officer constitutes a crime in many jurisdictions, including Indiana.  You are legally obligated to have on your person a license to operate a motor vehicle, and you are also legally obligated to provide identification to a police officer when asked.  Failing to do so could constitute a criminal act, and could result in charges being filed against you.

When it Gets More Serious

If the officer asks you to step out of your vehicle, it usually means that the officer has some reason to believe that you have committed some specific crime.  He may conduct field sobriety tests if he or she feels that you are operating while intoxicated (“OWI“), or he may radio for a canine unit if he or she believes you are harboring illegal substances.

At this point and all points previous, you have a right to not have your vehicle searched.  The officer MAY ONLY search your vehicle IF: 1) you consent for him or her to do so; or 2) if the officer has reasonable suspicion (aka., “probable cause“) to believe that you have committed a specific crime.  Reasonable suspicion or probable cause can be established by anything within the officer’s senses (sight, smell, sound, or touch), or by bringing a canine to the scene of the traffic stop. (The courts have determined that a canine walk around is NOT a “search” for Fourth Amendment purposes.)

During this time, the officer may formally detain you while probable cause is gathered or during a search of your vehicle pursuant to the officer finding probable cause for the search.  During your detention (that may involve placing you in handcuffs temporarily).  This “pat-down search” or sometimes called a “stop and frisk search” and detention is premised on the officer’s safety only, and can only be done only within this limited purpose. (The officer must reasonably believe that you are a threat to his or her safety.)  

Formal Detention and the Right to a Porter County Criminal Defense Attorney

Not every traffic stop proceeds exactly the same way; however, a number of factors must be evaluated before a few rights begin to attach.  In the famous Miranda decision, a warning of rights must be given to a person who is about to be questioned if the person “has been taken into custody or otherwise deprived of his freedom of action in any significant way.”   Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 444, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 1612, 16 L.Ed.2d 694, 706 (1966).  This has come to mean that somewhere between informal detention and a formal arrest is when you have the right to a Porter County criminal defense attorney, and the right to be advised of all of your rights by the police officer.  This can sometimes hinge on whether you have become the target of a criminal investigation.  (For an in-depth analysis of whether your rights have been violated, please seek the advice of licensed Indiana or Porter County criminal defense attorney.)

What Happens if My Criminal Rights Have Been Violated?

In nearly all violations of criminal rights, the remedy for the victims is that any information gathered, including evidence and confessions, will be excluded if it was obtained improperly.  Most criminal charges cannot stand if such evidence is excluded. This is not something a person without the experience and training of a Porter County criminal defense attorney can handle alone.  There are many complex legal arguments that need to be made on your behalf, and many legal briefs and motions that need to be filed to make exclusion of evidence possible.

SFT Lawyers Have Experienced Porter County Criminal Defense Attorneys Eager to Assist You

The experienced Porter County criminal defense attorneys of SFT Lawyers can help!  We have lawyers who have pursued the violation of criminal rights throughout the entire State of Indiana.  We can ensure that if evidence was obtained improperly, that it will not be used against you in court.  CALL TODAY for a FREE CONSULTATION or fill our our CONTACT US page.  (219) 841-5683.