When you see a police officer coming toward you, it is natural to feel intimidated or frightened, even if you have done nothing illegal. Whether you are on the street, in your car, or at a police station, know your rights when you are questioned by a police officer in New Jersey. The right to an attorney and the Fifth Amendment are essential to protect people in the United States against police overreaching. The law has long recognized the Fourth Amendment right to privacy, including the right to be detained only when there is probable cause for the police to believe you have committed an illegal act. The police must have evidence of wrongdoing before arresting you. They cannot go looking for evidence of crimes and infractions when questioning you on the street, in your car, or anywhere else. Understand that if you are questioned by the police, you should know and assert your rights.
You Have the Right NOT to Incriminate Yourself
Not only do you have United States constitutional rights, but you also have state law to protect you against self-incrimination. In New Jersey, you must show an officer your driver’s license, proof of insurance, and vehicle registration when police stop you while driving a car. Ordinarily, the police stop you because they believe you have violated a law. However, even if they tell you that you have broken the law by speeding, or that you smell like alcohol, or committed other traffic violations, you are not obligated to answer questions the police ask you without representation. You are not even obligated to take a field sobriety test if an officer asks you to do so.
You must take a breathalyzer test, though. If the officers detect alcohol on your breath, smell it in the car, or observe your erratic behavior, you may be asked to take a breathalyzer test to register your blood alcohol content. If the breathalyzer records a blood alcohol content of .08% or higher, you could be arrested for driving while intoxicated or under the influence (DWI/DUI). Refusing to take a breathalyzer test could lead to driving restrictions, high fines, and jail time. Though you cannot legally refuse to take the test, you do not have to answer questions while under arrest.
You Have the Right NOT to Consent to a Vehicle Search
Likewise, you do not have to consent if an officer asks to search your vehicle. Though many drivers feel that they have nothing to hide and wish to prove their innocence, allowing a vehicle search may turn out badly for you. Anything found in your vehicle, even items that are not yours, may give rise to further investigation and headaches as you become entangled in the legal system defending yourself. The police need a warrant to search your car without your consent or probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime is present in the vehicle.
You Have the Right to Ask for Your Attorney
However or wherever you are stopped, you do want to politely affirm your right to answer questions with your attorney beside you. You can ask for an attorney and wait for legal advice and representation before you give the police or prosecutor information. Since the answers you give to the police may be used as evidence against you in a court of law, you want to be armed with the knowledge that you do not have to and should not answer questions without legal advice. An attorney can help you assert your right not to speak against your own interest.
Additionally, if you are walking in a public street, the police cannot compel you to produce your identification or frisk you looking for evidence of crime, even if they believe you look suspicious or fit the description of someone who committed a crime. Without reasonable belief based on evidence that you were involved in illegal acts, the police cannot require you to answer their questions. You can politely respond by voicing that you do not want to answer unless your attorney is present. If the police do have evidence of criminal behavior on your part, then they may seek a warrant from a judge to arrest you. They must prove that they have a reasonable belief based on the evidence that you have committed a crime and, therefore, should be arrested. But simply following a hunch and asking you questions to have you clear yourself is not legal.
You Have Rights When Called Down to the Police Station
If, during an investigation, the police ask you to answer questions at the station, you may be curious about what they will ask you or tell you about possible criminal charges against you. Though your curiosity may be piqued, do not go to the station without first knowing whether you are going to be arrested or merely answering questions. Next, you should consider speaking to an attorney and making sure that if you are going to go, your attorney can be with you. If they are interested in speaking to you and you are not being placed under arrest, they are most likely looking for information or evidence and do not already have any evidence or enough evidence to get a warrant for your or another’s arrest. Or, conversely, they already have enough evidence and are trying to confirm what they have. Remember, a police investigation may be about you or about others too. In their minds, you may be a potential witness to crimes committed by others. However, you do not want to risk incriminating yourself and feel emboldened to speak without fear because you believe you have not done anything wrong.
You Have the Right to Remain Silent When Placed Under Arrest
If you are arrested because the police have a warrant or witnessed you committing a crime, then you must cooperate in the moment and not resist arrest. And yet, you still do not have to submit to an interrogation without legal representation. That is the law. The police know that you are entitled to representation and to remain silent, so they may try to persuade you that you are safe or that you are better off cooperating immediately to make life easier for you later. But the truth is that the police know how to draw out information from you in an indirect manner, suggesting the answers that they want. Your best strategy is to maintain your silence until you have counsel. You do not want anything you say or provide to the police to turn up as evidence against you.
Criminal Defense Lawyers with Offices in Point Pleasant, NJ Protect Your Rights when Arrested or Questioned by Police in Ocean County
Hiring an experienced criminal defense attorney at the investigation stage of your case or upon arrest is smart. An attorney can answer questions the authorities have for you on your behalf so that you do not have to worry about what you should and should not say. They can also advise you on how to safely get through an investigation, arrest, and prosecution while protecting your best interests. You want to be able to place your trust in someone who knows the system better than you do so you can make the right decisions and not make a worrisome situation worse. Contact a talented and committed criminal defense lawyer at William Proetta Criminal Law if you are wanted for questioning by the police or arrested anywhere in Ocean County, NJ. We have a local office in Point Pleasant, which allows us to serve clients throughout the Jersey Shore area, including in Toms River, Brick, Seaside Heights, Berkeley, Manchester, Jackson, and Lacey. Call us now at (848) 238-2100 or contact us online for a free consultation.