Know your rights: What to do if you’re stopped


Taylor Ferguson, General Assignments Editor

Micah Decker was 19 when he was charged with minor consumption. Decker was at a friend’s apartment in New Albany when a neighbor called for a noise complaint. Decker said officers showed up at the apartment and walked in uninvited as soon as his friend opened the door.

“I wish I knew then what I know now,” Decker said.

Decker is referencing his constitutional rights.

According to Decker, the officers said they needed to question everyone individually outside of the apartment about who fled the scene.

“I know now that they couldn’t give us tickets or arrest us unless we were off the property, so they manipulated us into going outside of the room to ‘talk,’ but really that’s when they gave us citations,” Decker said.

Decker said he was the last one questioned.

“I told them I did not know who ran,” Decker said. “Everyone else had already ratted them out but I wasn’t about to give up my friends, so they tried to bully me by putting me in handcuffs and telling me I was going to jail.”

Decker said the officers eventually removed the handcuffs and instead took his case of beer with them.

“They said, ‘Thanks, this will be good around the campfire tonight,’” Decker said.

If Decker had been aware of his constitutional rights he would have known that without a search warrant, probable cause or an invitation, law enforcement cannot enter a house. Even if Decker had let them in, according to Indiana code, at any time he could have told them he was uncomfortable with them searching and they would have to stop.

Brandon Hoffman, President of IU Southeast Civil Liberties Union, said when we, as American citizens, don’t know and understand our own rights, those who do not value civil rights and liberties are able to abuse or disregard them.

“We cannot have attorneys follow us around to protect our rights—we we as citizens must be vigilant and prepared to use the rights that have been afforded to us,” Hoffman said.

On the other hand, Charles Edelen, chief of police at IU Southeast, said the quickest way out of a situation with an officer is comply and follow what the officer is asking of you.

“It just depends on your viewpoint,” Edelen said. “If you want to be one of the people that wants to talk about their rights, you’re not impressing the officer,” “You may feel better about yourself, but really you’re just wasting your own time.”

Edelen said he believes people who use their right to remain silent usually are the ones that have something to hide.

Hoffman, however, said it’s just a matter of playing your cards safe.

“Say you bought a used car and the previous owner smoked marijuana in it, and they left some in between your stick shift,” Hoffman said. “You didn’t necessarily inspect your car to see if anything was left, but if you consent to a search when you’ve done absolutely nothing wrong and the officer finds it, you’re most likely going to get arrested.”

John Smith, partner at Faith Ingle Smith of New Albany, said a good reason to remain silent is because the government has the burden of proof in criminal cases.

“They may have no proof without your statements against interest. Be polite but keep quiet,” Smith said.

Edelen said by putting obstacles in an officer’s way of doing their job, that officer is going to continue to look for possibilities that you’re doing something illegal.

“They’re going to be doing more steps than if you had just done what they asked in the first place,” Edelen said.

Hoffman believes that many police officers know that most people don’t know their rights and that allows the officers to abuse or manipulate them.

“I’m not saying every officer does that, but they are not legally required to tell you the truth,” Hoffman said. “In reality I respect the authority of an officer, however, I want to make sure that they know I have rights, and that they know that I know I have rights.”



Your Rights:

* You have the right to remain silent. If you wish to exercise that right, say so out loud.

* You have the right to refuse to consent to a search of yourself, your car, or your home.

* If you are not under arrest, you have the right to calmly leave.

* You have the right to a lawyer if you are arrested. Ask for one immediately.

* Regardless of your immigration or citizenship status, you have constitutional rights.

Your Responsibilities:

* Do stay calm and be polite.

* Do not interfere with or obstruct the police.

* Do not lie or give false documents.

* Do prepare yourself and your family in case you are arrested.

* Do remember the details of the encounter.

* Do file a written complaint or call your local ACLU if you feel your rights have been violated.

If you are stopped for questioning:

* Stay calm.

* Ask if you are free to leave.

* You have the right to remain silent.

* You do not have to consent to a search.

If you are stopped in your car:

* Stop the car in a safe place as quickly as possible.

* Show police your driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance.

* If an officer or immigration agents asks to look inside your car, you can refuse to consent to the search.

* Both drivers and passengers have the right to remain silent.

If you feel your rights have been violated:

* Remember: police misconduct cannot be challenged on the street.

* Write down everything you remember.

*File a complaint.

* Call your local ACLU