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Rules Police Have to Follow

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What Rules Do the Police Have to Follow?

Police officers work hard to ensure people are following the rules, but they need to follow the rules as well. One of the main functions of a police officer is to get information and gather evidence. Police must follow the United States Constitution when performing their duties as peace officers.

What Constitutional Amendments Apply to Police Officers?

The three main constitutional rules a police officer must follow are the:

The police cannot use such evidence in your criminal case if they violate these constitutional rights. A criminal defense lawyer can argue that police violated your constitutional provisions and prevent evidence from being used in court.

4th Amendment Protections – Unlawful Searches and Seizures

Everybody has a constitutional right to be free from unlawful searches or seizures under the 4th Amendment. But, most people don’t understand how to exercise this right or that you can refuse a police officer’s request. A police officer does not have to inform you of your constitutional right to refuse a search and it is up to you to exercise your rights.

Everybody has a 4th Amendment right to be free from unlawful searches and seizures. But there are some exceptions, which include the following:

  • If you are on parole in most states like California
  • Going through some kind of public security screening such as at the airport, a courthouse, or city hall
  • Where public safety overrides your constitutional rights
  • Police officers have a right to ask for your license and registration during a traffic stop. They do not have the right to search your trunk, under your seat or glove box without your consent, probable cause, or a warrant.

This constitutional protection is important in all criminal cases. Most cases are about violated constitutional rights. Police officers can search your car, come into your house, or look in your bag when you consent to the search. Most people say, "yes" without realizing that they have given up an important right.

Defense lawyers can argue that your 4th Amendment rights were violated if your property was searched without consent, a warrant, or probable cause. This generally occurs in a hearing known as a motion-in-limine. The unlawfully seized items can be prevented from being used as evidence against you in court.

5th Amendment Protections – Right to an Attorney and Avoiding Self-Incrimination

Many people know about the 5th Amendment through popular legal and police dramas. The 5th Amendment involves Miranda rights and concerns the following:

  • You have the right to remain silent
  • Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law
  • You have the right to speak to an attorney
  • If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be appointed for you.
  • Do you understand these rights as they have been read to you?

Most people do not understand these rights and often waive them. To ensure that your rights are protected, ask for an attorney immediately. During a custodial interrogation, you must do this affirmatively by saying "I want to talk to a lawyer." Merely asking if you should speak to a lawyer, or using some other less affirmative response will not be invoked your rights. 

6th Amendment Protections – Stops Police Interrogation

The 6th Amendment gives you the right to a jury trial, a speedy trial, and other court procedural rules. It also prevents police from questioning you without an attorney present once charges have been filed.

Do not answer police questions without the presence of an attorney if you are being prosecuted for an offense. Any statements made to police without an attorney present after charges have been filed should be suppressed.

What Happens When Police Violate My 4th, 5th or 6th Amendment Rights?

If police violate your 4th, 5th, or 6th Amendment Rights, then the court can suppress the evidence. This means the court will not use the evidence due to the doctrines known as Fruit of the Poisonous Tree and the Exclusionary Rule.

Should I Get a Criminal Defense Attorney?

Yes. An experienced criminal defense attorney can argue and advocate on your behalf. Getting an attorney is important, especially if you believe your constitutional rights have been violated.

Photo of page author Jessica Tran

, LegalMatch Legal Writer

Last Modified: 02-20-2018 09:14 PM PST

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