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Key rights to remember if you're stopped by law enforcement

Being stopped by the police can be a frightening event -- so much so that many people find themselves answering questions or complying with requests that they weren't required to. That can lead to serious legal problems later on.

Of course it's never wise to be argumentative with a law enforcement officer, no matter how unfair you believe the stop is. However, you have rights when you are detained, and you can assert those rights -- politely but firmly. Following are four key ones that you should remember when you're stopped by police.

One right that some law enforcement officers are good at getting people to give up is the right to refuse any searches of your vehicle. Too many drivers allow these searches because they assume they're nothing there only to realize that the vehicle contains a drug, weapon or open container they didn't know about or forgot. An officer doesn't have the right to search your vehicle unless an illegal item is in plain sight or "plain smell" – such as if your car reeks of marijuana.

You have the right to stay silent -- with some qualifications. You are required to tell officers your name and provide identification. If you wish to assert this right after that, you need to tell the officer that this is what you're doing. Too many people get nervous and start trying to explain their way out of a situation, only to incriminate themselves.

If the stop reaches a point where you're not sure what the situation is, ask if you can go. If the police have no reason to arrest you, they have to allow you to leave. If it's obvious that you're not getting out of the situation without a trip to the local jail, you have the right to say that you want an attorney.

If you're fortunate, if you're stopped by police, you won't have to assert any of these rights. However, it's essential to have them memorized in case you have to assert any of them at a time when you're likely going to be frightened, flustered, angry and/or nervous.

If you believe that a law enforcement officer breached any of these or other rights, let your attorney know. He or she may be able to have evidence excluded if it wasn't obtained legally or if you were not afforded the protections to which you're entitled.

Source: GOOD, "The Four Magic Phrases to Use When You’re Stopped by the Cops," Brandon Weber, Jan. 20, 2016

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