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You Have the Right to Remain Silent

Updated on June 16, 2015

“Bad boys, bad boys, what you gonna do? What you gonna do when they come for you?”

With its famous theme song "Bad Boys", recorded by the reggae group Inner Circle, the television show COPS has captivated viewers since it first aired on March 11, 1989. Viewers are able to tune into law enforcement officials diligently performing their jobs, nabbing the “bad boys” and making life safer for residents.

Sometimes the Bad Boys are the Men in Blue

You won’t find someone like Mark Fuhrman, the racist police detective who invoked his right to remain silent, on COPS. And if the show happened to catch someone like him on tape, you can bet that segment is on the cutting room floor waiting to be placed in its new home: the trashcan.

Viewers are also unlikely to see, for example, a Los Angeles Police Captain mandating a quota of speeding tickets in order to increase revenue for the city or face the consequences of lower pay.

Even more unlikely for viewers to witness is the sting operation gone bad where the informant was shot dead by police due to some misunderstanding or mistiming or… mis-something.

"You don't mind if I take a look in your vehicle, do you?"

What viewers are likely to see is a motorist being pulled over for not using a blinker when making a right-hand turn or running a stop sign or maybe even a pedestrian stopped for jaywalking.

Through the course of “friendly” conversation, the minor offense will usually result in consent to a search of the vehicle or a search of the person. The cuffs are then slapped around a pair of wrists, and, finally, the Miranda rights are read (after the evidence has already been found by consent to search).

Although it is not illegal for a police officer to ask permission to search a vehicle and/or a person, it is illegal for an officer to perform a search without obtaining either the person's consent or a search warrant. This is why police officers will ask this question, and everyone has the right to say no--and should say no.


The Fourth Amendment and The Fifth Amendment

From the time we are children, we are taught to trust police officers. As we get older, we cringe when we see a police officer pull behind us. We ask ourselves if we remembered to renew our vehicle registration, and we hope that our insurance is in the glove box or the center console where we put it. We are taught to be polite, respectful, and to answer an officer’s questions. If we don’t answer their questions, it indicates that we are hiding something or that we are guilty of something, doesn’t it?  It shouldn't.

This is the reason why there is a show called COPS. This is the reason why COPS is so entertaining. It wouldn’t be very entertaining if everyone who was stopped by the police exercised their 4th Amendment and 5th Amendment rights, would it?

These amendments are guaranteed to everyone who is on this soil; the right to be free from illegal search and seizure, and the right to remain silent.

I suppose that most people incorrectly assume that they do not have the right to remain silent until the handcuffs are placed on their wrists and their Miranda rights are read. This is not the case at all. Whether being stopped for jaywalking, a minor traffic violation, speeding, or DUI suspicion, every person is entitled to remain silent and refuse to answer questions and refuse a search of person and/or vehicle.


How Not to Be on the TV Show COPS

What to Do When Stopped By a Police Officer

You must hand over your driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance. You have the right to remain absolutely silent after politely stating this to the police. You have a right to refuse to consent to the search of your vehicle and a search to your person unless the police believe that your vehicle contains evidence of a crime or that your person contains a weapon. You must submit to a sobriety test or a breathalyzer test (according to certain state laws). You have the right to leave if you are not being detained.

What to Do When Police Knock on Your Door

You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to ask if the police have a search warrant. If the police do have a search warrant, you have the right to have them slip it under the door so you are able to read it or have them hold it up to the window so you are able to read it. Everyone in the house has the right to remain silent. If asked by the police if something can be searched, you should reply that you are not consenting to any search of your person or home except to what is outlined in the search warrant.

If officers do not have a search warrant, you have the right to keep the door closed, refuse the police officers entry into your home, and the right to refuse to answer any questions.

What to Do When Asked About Immigration Status

You have the right to remain absolutely silent and refuse to answer any questions about where you were born, how long you have lived in the country, or if you are a US citizen. If you happen to have papers showing your immigration status, you should show the agents. Never lie about your immigration status. Never show fake documents.

What to Do If You Are Arrested

You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to ask for an attorney. You have the right to refuse to sign anything. Do not resist arrest.


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    • Deni Edwards profile image

      Deni Edwards 6 years ago from california

      Thanks for reading and commenting, William.

    • William F. Torpey profile image

      William F Torpey 6 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Good advice, Deni. I think many people feel intimidated by police officers when asked for permission to conduct a search because a "no" answer tends to create a hostile atmosphere -- and the false assumption by police that the citizen is hiding something. It's a rare occasion for the citizen so it's likely he would not feel comfortable about his knowledge of his rights.