The Harbinger Online

Know Your Rights

A recent case Virginia has once again opened conversation on the boundaries between citizens and police officers, opening debate on whether laws can keep up with the ever-changing world. A judge in Virginia Beach Circuit Court ruled that a suspect could be forced to unlock his cellphone, which contained possible evidence, because his phone used fingerprint-password protection. The Fifth Amendment protects freedom of knowledge, so the police cannot force you to tell them the passcode to your phone or technology. However, the Constitution doesn’t restrict the authorities taking DNA, such as saliva swabs and blood samples. By this logic, the judge ruled that the defendant could be compelled to give up his fingerprints, and allow access to the information on the phone.

Whether it be this case in Virginia, the violence still happening in Ferguson or students at East,  the news is full of debate over citizens rights vs. those of the police. A poll of East seniors showed that while almost three-quarters had been in an encounter with the police in the past year, only half knew what their rights were in such a situation. Law enforcement is in place to protect the people. Yet the stats show that people, particularly teenagers, don’t know how to protect themselves against law enforcement.



What they can do:

  • Ask to see the driver’s license, registration and insurance card.
  • Order you out of the vehicle and frisk for weapons if you pose a possible threat.
  • Search the vehicle if the stop provides probable cause for the officers to believe it contains illegal goods or evidence of a crime.
  • Breathalyze you if they have probable cause to believe you are driving under the influence.
  • Breathalyze passengers if they seem to be drunk and they are underage.

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 1.29.48 PMYour rights:

  • Refuse to be breathalyzed, though this may lead to you being punished more harshly.
  • Refuse to answer questions beyond your basic information.
  • Refuse a search of your car.
  • Say you don’t consent to a body search, without physically resisting.


What they can do:

  • If you’re being stopped for a traffic infraction they can ask for license, registration and insurance.
  • Frisk you for weapons if they believe you might be a threat to the officer.
  • Gain information such as your name and address without saying your Miranda rights.
  • Use your silence as evidence against you if they haven’t said Miranda. Eg. “If you’re innocent, why didn’t you say you say so at the scene of the crime?”

Your rights:Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 1.31.03 PM

  • To ask what you have done wrong
  • To ask if you are free to leave. If you are, you can walk calmly away. If you are not, you are being arrested and they must recite your Miranda rights.
  • Have Miranda translated if you do not speak English.
  • If you are being investigated for a crime, you can inform the officer that your attorney told you to never speak to law enforcement without talking to him or her first.
  • Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 1.59.39 PM



What they can do:

  • Enter your home without permission if: they have a warrant, they are chasing a criminal suspect or they think someone is in danger inside.
  • Tell you that they will be less harsh on offenders if you let them in without a warrant – this may or may not be true, nothing stops police from lying to you.
  • Leave one officer on the premises while the other goes to get a warrant.

Screen Shot 2014-12-02 at 1.29.07 PMYour rights:

  • Speak to them without fully opening the door.
  • If you are concerned about them forcing entry, you can leave through another door and greet them outside.
  • Remain silent, except to say “Officer, I can’t let you inside without a search warrant.”
  • If they have a warrant, ask to see it, and check the address, date and judge’s signature.


What they can do:

  • Search your locker without a warrant or probable cause, because it is school property.
  • Pat you down if they think you may have a weapon.
  • Bring in drug-sniffing dogs at random.
  • In some cases they have been allowed to conduct random searches of students.

Your rightsScreen Shot 2014-12-02 at 1.33.33 PM

  • To not consent to a search of your body or car without a warrant.
  • Remain silent if you are a suspect in a crime.
  • Have a parent or guardian present if you are being questioned.


Anthony Russo, Criminal Defense Attorney

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Katharine Swindells

Senior Katharine Swindells is head online copy-editor of the Harbinger Online. She likes British politics, selfies, feminism, cute shoes and books. Read Full »

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