March 5, 2021 | Criminal Procedure
Police officers are people just like the rest of us. They are not above the law and are not given a “free pass” just because they have a shield or they are law enforcement officers. Whether they are on-duty or off-duty, police officers must obey the law.
When police officers break the law, they can be punished just like you if you commit a crime. Courts have held police officers accountable for their wrongdoing, misconduct, and illegal acts. Police officers go to prison, serve probation, and pay fines when they are convicted of criminal acts.
However, when an officer commits a crime while on duty, there could be other consequences. If the misconduct results in criminal charges against someone, those criminal charges could be dismissed if the evidence was obtained through illegal means.
A police officer’s violation of your civil rights is just one reason it is essential to talk to a criminal defense attorney if you are charged with a crime. The attorney may uncover police misconduct that could help your case. Most attorneys offer a free consultation, so you have nothing to lose by talking with a lawyer about your criminal case.
Examples of Things That Police Officers Can and Cannot Do
The following examples can help to illustrate what officers may do and may not do while performing their duties. Police officers cannot:
- Use excessive force during an arrest or encounter
- Commit assault or battery
- Plant evidence or tamper with evidence
- Racially profile individuals
- Tamper with a witness
- Use bribes to obtain testimony or evidence
- Coerce or threaten a subject to force a confession
- Violate your civil rights
- Commit acts of police brutality
Officers are not permitted to engage in the above activity on duty or off duty. There are four other important things you need to know about what the cops can and cannot do.
Conduct Illegal Searches and Seizures
Police officers often request to search vehicles during traffic stops. You do not have to consent to the search. Likewise, if the officer comes to your home without a warrant, you do not have to consent to a search.
However, you do not want to argue with the police or put yourself in a situation where you would be resisting arrest. Instead, state clearly and respectfully that you do not consent to the search. Your attorney will argue the legality of the search in front of a judge.
Police officers must have a warrant or probable cause to conduct a search. Any evidence found during an illegal search may be inadmissible in court. There are exceptions, such as seeing dangerous weapons or illegal drugs in plain sight.
A Police Officer Can Lie To You
Police officers can lie, and they do lie to suspects and witnesses. Officers lie to obtain confessions or information they can use to build a case against a suspect. There may be limits to what they can lie about, but the exceptions are few. For example, a police officer cannot lie about whether he has a warrant.
If you are arrested, the best thing you can do is remain silent. Do not answer questions or make a statement without your attorney present.
Police Cannot Falsely Arrest You
Police officers must have probable cause or an arrest warrant to arrest a person. Otherwise, they violate a person’s civil rights.
False arrests are very common. Your criminal defense lawyer will scrutinize the details of your arrest to determine if the officer made a false arrest.
Police Can Arrest You Without a Warrant
A police officer does not need a warrant to make an arrest. If the officer has probable cause, he can arrest you. Probable cause is the reasonable belief that a crime has been committed or is being committed by someone.
However, some police officers stretch the definition of probable cause beyond its limits. If you do not believe that the cops had a valid reason for your arrest, you should talk with a lawyer.
What Should You Do if a Police Officer Violates Your Civil Rights?
Do not resist arrest or argue with the police officer. You could face additional charges and criminal penalties. Instead, continue to remain silent except for asking for a lawyer.
Remember, the police can lie to you. Whatever the officers say to you, remain silent. You are not required to answer questions. Refusing to answer questions does not make you appear guilty, even though that is what the police officer might tell you. Invoking your civil rights is a smart move.