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When Am I Required to Comply with a Law Enforcement Officer?

Enforcement OfficerUnless complying with the Officer would violate your rights, the short answer is you should always comply with law enforcement. It’s important to know what your rights are regarding what a law enforcement officer is allowed to do or to ask from you, and there are times when you can refuse a request made, but if the request does not violate your rights, the best response is to comply.

When might I find myself in this situation?

If you are pulled over or otherwise stopped by law enforcement, they can make requests of you. These requests can be as simple as responding to a question or showing identification or as exceptional as taking a breathalyzer or acquiescing to a search of your property.

What are my rights regarding speaking?

South Carolina is a Show ID state, so if asked for your ID for any reason, you should be ready to provide it. You should also be prepared to provide basic information if asked, but you do not have to answer probing questions asked by a law enforcement officer. If you are being asked about your whereabouts or intent, you can choose to remain silent.

What are my rights regarding searches?

If a law enforcement officer requests to be allowed to perform a search, whether that search is of your home, your car, or your person, you are allowed to refuse. Without probable cause or a warrant, law enforcement has no right to perform a search. If law enforcement wants to perform a search, it is because they are looking for a reason to arrest you or someone you know.

Why should I do what they ask?

Not complying with a law enforcement officer when their request is valid and does not violate your rights is only going to make them angry. In some cases, it can even make you look guilty.

If you’re in a situation where the police have asked you for information or to agree to a search and you think that responding or allowing the search may result in an arrest, you can stay silent or ask for an attorney. It should be noted that you may be arrested anyway, but you can continue to remain silent so that you do not provide information that could be used against you.

Ultimately, asking for a lawyer is what Greg, our Managing Partner, calls the “Magic Words.” When you ask for a lawyer, you invoke all of your rights. It’s the asking which shuts the police questions down. You could be in the middle of the ocean, with no lawyers within a thousand miles; that does not matter. If you ask for a lawyer, the Supreme Court says: “all questions must cease!”

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