Know Your Rights: DC Police Stops

In Washington, DC, you have certain unalienable rights that cannot be impeded under any circumstances by law enforcement. It is important for you to know these rights and understand how to tell if you are in police custody or are just being questioned. A DC criminal defense lawyer can help you understand your rights and how they may apply to your criminal case today.

Your Rights When Detained by Police

When detained by police in Washington, DC, you have the right to ask that a lawyer be present for any questioning, decline to answer any questions, and receive medical attention in the event you have a serious medical issue that needs immediate attention.

Custody Versus Just Being Questioned

When you are in custody, you no longer have the ability to terminate a meeting with the police and walk away. Thus, if you are being questioned by the police, it is very important that the first thing you ask is, “Am I being detained, or am I free to leave?” Police officers will often try to evade these questions, but asking whether you are being detained and asking if you are free to leave will enable you to be informed as to whether you are in custody.

If at any point, the police say you are free to leave, then you have the right to leave at any point. If the police give you any indication that you are not free to leave or that you are not able to terminate the encounter, then you know that at that point you are in custody.

Rights When Stopped by Police on the Street

If a police officer stops you on the street, you still have the right to decline to answer any questions. In some situations the police will try to ask you questions as part of their investigation before they place you under arrest. Regardless of when the police ask questions, you always have the right to decline to answer those questions. The police may tell you that if you decline to answer their questions then they will arrest you, but regardless of what the police say you always have the right to decline to answer questions.

The police may also ask, if you will give them consent to search you. You are never obligated to consent to a search of your body, your vehicle, and any of your personal belongings. The police may nonetheless try to search you for whatever reason, but letting the officers know that you do not consent to such a search enables your lawyer to potentially challenge the search as illegal at a later date. However, if you consented to a search then you have waived any legal ability to challenge that search later on.

Rights When the Police Come to My Door

When the police come to your door, always be respectful as opposed to argumentative or combative. You have the right to deny them entry into your house or apartment unless they have a search warrant. If the police do have a search warrant, respectfully ask to see it and allow them to conduct their search. You have the right to decline to answer any questions while the police are conducting their search.