SEARCH AND SEIZURE in Pensacola and Escambia County
Just what exactly are your rights regarding search and seizure? “License and registration please.” If you have ever been pulled over by police, you have most likely heard this expression. For many people in our country, being pulled over – or detained – by law enforcement can be a scary event. This is true even for those who have done nothing wrong and should have nothing to worry about. Over the past year or two it seems as though Americans have become increasingly suspicious of cops. With cell phone or body cam videos on the news, Facebook, and Instagram showing excessive use of force by police, a certain level of distrust is to be expected.
Being a Florida Criminal Defense Lawyer, I get a lot of questions about what some of your basic rights are when a police officer stops you. In order for a police officer to stop you they have to have reasonable suspicion that you are committing or are about to commit a crime (or traffic infraction, like speeding). Once you are “detained” the officer can only hold you for a reasonable amount of time. What is a reasonable amount of time? It depends on the reason you are being detained. For example, if you have been pulled over for speeding then a reasonable amount of time is the length of time it takes to write you a ticket.
Now that you have been stopped and are being detained, what are some other rights that you have? Here is a quick list of some things that you need to know:
- You do not have to let the police search your car unless they’ve got a reason to do it. If you consent to a search of your car you are waiving almost any attack on the legality of the search of your car.
- The cops do not have the right to pat you down or search your pockets, shoes, socks, etc., unless they have probable cause to believe that you have contraband (illegal stuff) on you or that you are a threat to the officer’s safety. I cannot tell you how many times I have heard a cop say that after getting the driver out of the car he conducted “his officer safety pat-down.” This does not exist. Cops don’t just get to pat you down and search you. They need a reason to search you. Again, if you consent to being searched, you’ve likely kissed your motion to suppress good bye.
- You have the RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT. If you are up to no good, DO NOT TELL THE POLICE. Reality check: no matter what you think, you are not going to talk your way out of this. When you start singing like a canary you are only helping the prosecutor prove their case against you. Your confession will be the best piece of evidence the state has and you had better believe they are going to use it against you.
- You have the RIGHT TO A LAWYER…but you have to clearly ask to speak to one. Don’t be ambiguous. Tell the police “I want to speak to a lawyer.” Once you’ve done that they cannot ask you any other questions. Here’s an important point: just because you cannot afford a private attorney does not mean that you cannot ask for a lawyer. So, don’t think that you cannot assert your right to a lawyer simply because you cannot afford to hire somebody. If you ask for a lawyer then the police must stop asking you questions until you consult with attorney, whether it is a private lawyer or a public defender.
These are just a few things to keep in mind during your next encounter with the police. Now, I understand that, practically speaking, people are scared to tell a police officer that they cannot search their car, that they cannot come in and search their house, or that the officer cannot search their pockets. I understand the fear that saying no will lead to the officer doing something ever worse to you. I have heard the threats of being arrested for obstruction, that they are going to bring the K-9’s, etc. Look – I get it. But do not let them bully you into waiving your constitutional rights. Stand up for your rights. These days many agencies, like the Pensacola Police Department, have body cameras. Let the camera be your friend. The number one rule you need to follow: be respectful!