As criminal defense and civil rights attorneys in Columbus, Ohio, we sadly know that people who come into contact with law enforcement personnel bear much of the responsibility for preventing harm to themselves. We also recognize that people must exercise their constitutional civil rights without being seen as threatening, angering, or provoking an officer.
While nothing can guarantee that an encounter with authorities will go smoothly and without resulting in a false arrest or another violation of civil rights, Our Columbus civil rights attorneys can offer the following 10 rules for reducing tensions and avoiding disclosures of information police can use to justify bringing criminal charges and securing convictions.
Stop when asked to do so. Police will chase you if you try to flee, and they may be justified in using force or weapons to stop you.
Try as hard as possible to avoid making physical contact with an officer. If the encounter escalates, do not struggle when an officer pats you down and places you in handcuffs. Never give an officer an excuse to treat you roughly.
After parking, turn off your engine, roll down the driver’s side window halfway, turn on the interior light if it’s nighttime, and place your hands on the steering wheel. Ask passengers to sit still, face forward, and place their own hands on the dashboard or the backs of the seats in front of them.
Take full advantage of your right to remain silent. Police really will try to use anything you say against you in court.
In addition to keeping your mouth shut as much as possible, pay attention to your tone of voice and your body language. Try to project a calm, unthreatening attitude. Also make sure that anyone in your car or with you in a building or public place understands that they, too, should exercise their civil rights to remain silent.
Refusing to say a single word to a police officer can be interpreted as acting in a hostile and uncooperative manner. Instead of staring back blankly, consider saying something along the lines of “I prefer not to answer” or “I cannot answer that question at this time.”
Address the officer as “sir,” “ma’am,” or “officer” as appropriate. Do not engage in a stare down, make sudden movements, or step toward an officer unless asked to do so.
Circling back to the second rule for reducing the risks for problems during an encounter with law enforcement, never give a police officer a reason to think you are reaching for a gun, knife, or other weapon. Only reach for objects like your license, vehicle registration, and proof of insurance when instructed to do so.
Generally, law enforcement officers cannot search your car, home, office, or phone without your permission or a warrant. They can, however, look through windows and look around a room. Depending on what they see in plain sight, officer can conduct a more thorough search for safety reasons or to stop behavior that is clearly against the law.
Regarding sobriety tests, Ohio courts do not recognize the validity of alcohol breath tests performed outside of specially licensed facilities. Also, Ohio drivers can refuse to have an officer check their eye movements, to stand on one leg or to walk a straight line without increasing their risk for getting arrested for an alcohol or drug offense. However, a refusal after arrest will result in a mandatory license suspension for one year for a first offense, but you may request driving privilege after 30 days.
Remind yourself to stay calm and to pay attention to as many details of the encounter as you can. Do not object if you think an officer is conducting an illegal search or violating your civil rights in other ways. You will not win the argument, but you will potentially convince the officer to arrest you, especially if you insult him or her.
You cannot be denied legal advice and representation. Be aware, however, that officers and prosecutors can continue asking you questions after you request a lawyer. Keep not answering.
Tell your Columbus civil rights lawyer everything you can remember from the time you were approached by the authorities until you met with your lawyer. You should also write down as many details about physical mistreatment, potentially illegal searches, and unfair interrogation techniques as you can remember. Your civil rights lawyer will use that information, as well recordings made by dashboard cameras, police body cameras, and witnesses with smartphones, to file appropriate complaints and, possibly, file motions to have charges dropped and evidence thrown out.
To get in touch with a civil rights attorney in Columbus, call the Calig Law Firm at (614) 252-2300 or use this online contact form. Our attorneys handle civil rights, criminal cases, employment discrimination complaints, and allegations of discrimination in educational settings. With our civil rights attorney, initial consultations are free and confidential.