Innocent until proven guilty is the cornerstone of American law. Being charged with a crime doesn’t mean that you are guilty or have no rights. There are ways to protect yourself on the off chance you are charged with a crime.
Whether it is a misdemeanour or a felony, you have rights.
We’ve all heard of Miranda rights and thanks to TV police shows. We can probably recite it by heart. Yet, how many of us think about what it means to have those rights?
So, what do I do if I’m charged with a felony? Let’s start with the top three things you should know to help you in case you are accused of a crime.
Right to remain silent vs right to an attorney
It can be confusing, but the right to remain silent and the right to have an attorney present during questioning are two different things.
Once you tell police that you are not going to answer any of their questions, they are legally required to stop. They are not required to ask you if you have an attorney, if you want an attorney or if they think you need one.
You will have not only to tell them that you are not cooperating, but you want to have an attorney present. Be very explicit about this.
If you don’t have an attorney, you have the right to have one appointed to you by the court.
You have the right to know why you’ve been arrested
If you are being taken into custody, then the officer has to tell you that you are under arrest and what for. If it is a consensual conversation, then you should be free to leave if you don’t want to talk any further.
If you are not free to leave, then you are detained and are under arrest.
Before they arrest or detain you, then they don’t have to issue Miranda rights. It is only after if they want to ask you questions that they have to read them to you and ask if you understand these rights.
If they haven’t arrested you, then anything you say can get you arrested if they feel that you are giving them arrestable information. Anything you say before those rights are read cannot be used in court but can be used in your arrest.
The castle doctrine
If you are at home and the police want to come in, they have to have a warrant. Even if it is only to talk to you. You don’t have to cooperate.
They can’t search your home without that warrant. They can’t enter your home and arrest you without a warrant. If they ask if they can come in and ask a few questions, then tell them they need to come back with one. Do not let them in.
If you are outside the home, then they can search you if they have probable cause to think you have committed a crime or are in possession of something illegal. This is not the case when you are home.
So many sure to know your rights, get the facts and if need be, make sure you consult with proper legal help should you need it.