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Four “Magic” Phrases to Use if Cops Stop You: A lawyer’s advice on how to assert your rights
The U.S. Constitution gives you rights that protect you during police encounters. It is the job of the police to find evidence of a crime. It is not your job to confess or help them. The police will not always tell you your rights or help you understand them. In fact, they are trained to harass, scare, and trick you into giving up your rights. You have to be strong in the face of such intimidation, but remain polite and respectful, even if the courtesy is not returned.
Remember, the police do not have the final word and while they may be able to harass, intimidate, and arrest you, the real fight is in the courtroom before the judge and jury. But you must actually survive the police encounter first before you can win the battle in court. To win that court battle, your lawyer needs to be able to prove the police acted illegally and the evidence should therefore be thrown out. The goal is to get all the evidence tossed so that there is no case left against you. If you give police permission, your lawyer will not be able to argue they acted illegally and there will not be much he or she can do to defend you. This is why what you do and say are very important. Your lawyer needs you to say the “magic words,” which limit what the police can do and will help your lawyer prove the police acted illegally. So remember these four phrases:
1. “Am I free to go?”
2. “I do not consent to any searches.”
3. “I want to remain silent.”
4. “I want a lawyer.”
”Am I free to go?”
The first question, “Am I free to go,” clarifies if you are being detained or not. If you are being detained, the police cannot ask you questions without reading you your rights, just like on the TV cop shows. If they do not read you your rights, your lawyer can use this against them in court.
"I do not consent to any searches."
This second statement is critical. The cops are not allowed to just search you for any reason. They have to meet certain requirements like having probable cause or a warrant. Even if they have a warrant, they can only search within certain limits. For example, if the warrant is for plants, they cannot necessarily search drawers. But if you give consent, you are giving permission to search everywhere. Never consent to any searches! It will never help you or get the cops to go easy on you. If they need consent then they have nothing against you so don’t give it to them. If the police think they do not need consent, they will go ahead and search after you say the magic words. Stand out of the way and be quiet while they search. They may or may not find anything.
"I want to remain silent."
“I want to remain silent,” is one of the trickier magic words. The Supreme Court has declared that in order to use your right to remain silent, you must first speak up and say you want to remain silent. After you say it, the police are still allowed to continue to question and harass you. You must not speak up and if you do, you have to say “I want to remain silent,” all over again. For some reason, the Supreme Court thinks this is all very easy to do during a police encounter.
"I want a lawyer."
When you tell the police, “I want a lawyer,” they are not allowed to talk to you again until you have a lawyer with you. If they do talk to you and you accidentally talk back, your lawyer will be able to throw it out in court even if you forget to say “I want to remain silent,” after you talk. Asking for a lawyer is the ultimate legal block against the police.You do not need to ask for a specific lawyer or worry about paying if you cannot afford it. If you are arrested, remain silent and wait to get bailed out. At your first court date you can ask for a free lawyer.
If a person says the magic words, but only cops can hear them, did they really say anything at all?
Yes! There are ways to prove you said the magic words even if there are no witnesses other than the police. It is becoming common for police to record encounters. Also, more and more drivers are using dash cams. Bystanders and onlookers are also allowed to video record police encounters. Your lawyer can find these recordings and use them to help you. Most importantly, make it known as part of your public reputation that you would always use the magic words with police. Constantly tell your friends and family about the magic words and how they should use them too. Make the magic words a part of your life.