By: Courtney Hart
It sounds like a problem from the movies. You’re driving along, minding your own business, and suddenly a police car’s flashing lights emerge and you have to pull over. You may not even know what you did wrong. It didn’t seem like you were speeding. You put on your turn signal before that last turn. You’re not weaving out of your lane. But here you are, stopped on the side of the road anyway.
For many people, routine encounters with police are an intimidating experience – even when you know you’ve done nothing wrong. There’s something about the act of being stopped by an officer that makes people feel apprehensive even if you know you have no reason to be. And those vulnerable moments can unfortunately lead to mistakes with serious consequences.
That’s where Maine criminal defense lawyers like us come in. We are here to be your voice to the police. You are not obligated to answer an officer’s questions. But you have to let us help you. Ask for an attorney so he or she can discuss your options with you. It’s best to have that advice, that advocate in your corner from the beginning rather than after you’ve already allowed an officer too much leeway.
Many people think that if an officer asks to search your vehicle, you have to agree. You don’t. Even if there’s nothing to hide, searches of vehicles are an intrusion on your privacy. That’s why the law provides that searches can only happen in certain circumstances. Those laws are there to protect you, and we’re here to let you know about them. Having tinted windows and a loud stereo could give rise to an encounter with police, but that doesn’t give the police any more reason to search your car than anyone else’s.
Here’s one crucial thing to remember: if an officer has the probable cause he or she needs to search your vehicle, then a warrant should be easy to get. You don’t have to accommodate that request. You don’t have to argue or protest – you can simply, politely say no. The officer either has to end the encounter there or go get a warrant. You cannot be detained just because you or your vehicle looks a certain way.
Similarly, you don’t have to volunteer any information to the police. If you’re uncomfortable answering a certain question, you can simply say so. Remember, even the friendliest officer is still there to do a job: to get the information necessary to see if something illegal is going on. You don’t have to help them.
For example, if an officer asks you whether you’ve been drinking and how many beers you’ve had, that presumes you’ve had some beer. Telling him or her you “only had one” may still give that officer the information he or she needs to ask you to perform field sobriety tests, or to search your vehicle. That’s when trouble starts. An attorney may still be able to help you down the road, but you can be your own best defender at the outset by calmly and politely telling the police you haven’t done anything wrong and you’d like to speak to a lawyer before you answer any questions.
Encounters with police can be unnerving even for the most confident people. If you find yourself in a tough situation after an encounter with a law enforcement officer, call one of our experienced criminal lawyers at Shaheen & Gordon, P.A. today. We’re here to help you and we represent clients throughout Maine from offices in Saco and Portland. Consultations are free and confidential.