Spotting red and blue lights in your rearview mirror can be a terrifying experience. A bad situation can be made worse if you don’t know your rights. It’s important to understand how to assert your rights effectively. Doing so can help minimize the potential damage of criminal charges.

The initial stop

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), you do not have to answer questions involving the following:

  • Where someone lives
  • What someone is doing
  • Where someone is going
  • A person’s country of origin

When speaking with the officer, remain calm and polite. Keep your hands visible at all times. The police may not search your vehicle without your consent or without a search warrant. However, there are exceptions to this rule. For example, an officer may search your car if there is visible evidence of criminal activity, such as having a bag of drugs in plain sight, or if the officer believes it’s necessary to secure their safety.

The arrest and your Miranda rights

If the police place you under arrest, they are required to inform you of your Miranda rights. As you probably know from movies and television, these are your right to an attorney and your right to remain silent.

You should always assert these rights. Explicitly ask to speak to a lawyer. You also need to explicitly state that you intend to exercise your right to remain silent. Saying something like, “I’m not sure I should talk to you,” may not be enough to assert this right. Other than asking to see a lawyer and asserting your right to remain silent, do not say anything else. This includes during the ride to the station or any time after you’ve received your Miranda warning.

You are unlikely to talk yourself out of trouble. However, you can easily talk yourself into trouble. Exercising your rights is not an admission of guilt. Sit tight until your attorney is present, and you can determine how best to proceed.