Your Rights During a Criminal Investigation in Fairfax

If you are contacted by law enforcement either at your house or on the street you have legal rights that may not be infringed upon. Below, a Fairfax criminal lawyer discusses these rights and why they are important. For more information call and schedule a consultation today.

Your Rights If Police Show Up To Your Door

When police come to your door to ask you questions you do not have to let them in to your house and you do not have to answer their questions. You never have to give police consent to come in to your house or make a statement, it is always better to politely refuse and then get on the phone with an attorney as soon as possible.

That doesn’t mean police can’t enter into your house. If they have a warrant or probable cause and an “exigency” (an emergency situation) they can still enter, but if  is your right to refuse them entry otherwise and refuse to speak with them at all.

Why Shouldn’t I Just Show Them I Have Nothing To Hide?

If you let police in to show them that you have nothing to hide the police could locate items that could help their case or be evidence of an offense, even if you didn’t consider it incriminating at the time. You never know what information police have when they come to your door, or what they’re looking for. When you let them into your house, they have a right to search any areas you consent to and to seize and keep as evidence anything they think may be evidence of a crime. They can also seize anything that may be evidence of a crime, even if it wasn’t related to the initial reason they asked to search your house.Once legally inside your house, they can take items they believe to contain evidence of a crime, including your mail, your journals, and even your laptop or phone.

There’s no harm in refusing to let them in. That cannot be used against you in court to imply a guilty conscience.

So when you let the police in even for one reason, if they see evidence of a crime occurring, that can be collected by police and used against you.  As a result, it’s almost always safer to refuse police to enter and search your apartment or house even if you have nothing to hide.

Your Rights If Stopped By Police On The Street

It really depends on why they stopped you, how much information police have to believe you committed a crime, and the nature of the detention. There are three levels of police-citizen encounters in Virginia, and depending on each situation, a person’s rights change.

The first, and least restrictive police-citizen encounter is called a “consensual encounter.” Police can walk up to any person at any time and ask to speak with them. However, because it is “consensual” the person being can questioned can refuse to speak and can walk away.

If they have reasonable suspicion that you committed an offense, then they can briefly detain you to either confirm or dispel their suspicion that you in fact committed an offense. In this situation you are not free to leave, but you also do not have to speak with police nor consent to a search of your person, your car, your house, or any other area.

The last level of police-citizen encounters is a full-blown arrest or its functional equivalent. In this situation, police must have probable cause to believe you committed a crime. If they do, they can handcuff you, search you, your car or anywhere else contraband relating to arrest may be found. And they can bring you to the jail. Once again, your right to remain silent is in effect throughout the entire process. You also have a right not to consent to a search of yourself, your car, you house, your phone or any other object.

Why Shouldn’t I Just Cooperate and Show I Did Nothing Wrong?

It’s not ultimately up to you to resolve the situation. The police are going to do what they need to do to investigate the case, so it’s not as easy as just “cooperate” and “resolve the case. If they want to arrest you, they’re going to arrest you. It’s best to let your attorney battle that out in court rather than just try to solve the situation on the street because frankly, on the street, the police are ultimately going to win, and by cooperating, you often provide information to police that come back to haunt you at trial, even if you are truly innocent of any offense. Always be polite to police, and if you truly have absolutely nothing to hide, then it is your call, but in general the best policy is probably to remain silent.

How Do I Know If I’m In Custody Or Just Being Detained?

It’s very hard to tell. That’s a very nuanced legal issue that gets argued in court by attorneys every day. You may not be able to tell if you are being detained or even arrested, but there are some tell-tale signs.

In a consensual encounter (meaning police don’t even have reasonable suspicion that you committed a crime) if you try to terminate the conversation and walk away and the police allow that, you are in a consensual encounter, If they don’t let you leave, but also won’t arrest you, you are probably being detained for police to conduct an investigation (also known as a “Terry” stop). If they tell you that you are under arrest, or put you in handcuffs and the back seat of a police cruiser, then you essentially are under arrest.

Their words matter less than their actions. They may tell you that you are not under arrest, but if they handcuff you and put you in the back seat of their police car, the courts will likely find that you were under arrest. Courts will look at the totality of the circumstances to determine the level of police conduct.