Know Your Rights!
- Do I have to answer questions asked by law enforcement officers?
- Are there any EXCEPTIONS to the general rule that I do not have to answer questions?
- Can I talk to a lawyer before answering questions?
- What if I speak to law enforcement officers anyway?
- What if law enforcement officers threaten me with a grand jury subpoena if I don’t answer their questions?
- What if law enforcement officers stop me on the street?
- What if law enforcement officers stop me in my car?
- What should I do if law enforcement officers arrest me?
- Do I have to answer questions if I have been arrested?
- What if I am treated badly by law enforcement officers?
- Can law enforcement officers search my home or office?
- What are warrants and what should I make sure they say?
- What should I do if officers come to my house?
- Can law enforcement officers search my home or office?
- What if law enforcement officers do not have a search warrant?
- What if law enforcement officers tell me they will come back with a search warrant if I do not let them in?
- What if law enforcement officers do not have a search warrant, but they insist on searching my home even after I object?
- Do I have to answer questions whether I am a U.S. citizen, where I was born, where I live, where I am from, or other questions about my immigration status?
- Do I have to show officers my immigration documents?
- What should I do if there is an immigration raid where I work?
- What should I do if immigration officers arrest me?
- Do I have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any law enforcement officers’ questions or signing any immigration papers?
- If I am arrested for immigration violations, do I have the right to a hearing before an immigration judge to defend myself against deportation charges?
- Can I be detained while my immigration case is happening?
- Can I call my consulate if I am arrested?
- What happens if I give up my right to a hearing or leave the U.S. before the hearing?
- What if I am charged with a crime?
A: No. You have the constitutional right to remain silent. In general, you do not have to talk to law enforcement officers (or anyone else), even if you do not feel free to walk away from the officer, you are arrested, or are in jail. You cannot be punished for refusing to answer a question. It is a good idea to talk to a lawyer before agreeing to answer questions. In general, only a judge can order you to answer questions. (non-citizens should see section IV for more information on this topic.) Back to Top
Q: Are there any EXCEPTIONS to the general rule that I do not have to answer questions?
A: Yes, there are two limited exceptions. First, in some states, you must provide your name to law enforcement officers if you are stopped and told to identify yourself. But even if you give your name, you are not required to answer other questions. Second, if you are driving and you are pulled over for a traffic violation, the officer can require you to show your license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance (but you do not have to answer questions). (non-citizens should see section IV for more information on this topic.) Back to Top
Q: Can I talk to a lawyer before answering questions?
A: Yes. You have the constitutional right to talk to a lawyer before answering questions, whether or not the police tell you about that right. The lawyer’s job is to protect your rights. Once you say that you want to talk to a lawyer, officers should stop asking you questions. If they continue to ask questions, you still have the right to remain silent. If you do not have a lawyer, you may still tell the officer you want to speak to one before answering questions. If you do have a lawyer, keep his or her business card with you. Show it to the officer, and ask to call your lawyer. Remember to get the name, agency and telephone number of any law enforcement officer who stops or visits you, and give that information to your lawyer. Back to Top
Q: What if I speak to law enforcement officers anyway?
A: Anything you say to a law enforcement officer can be used against you and others. Keep in mind that lying to government official is a crime but remaining silent until you consult with a lawyer is not. Even if you have already answered some questions, you can refuse to answer other questions until you have a lawyer. Back to Top
Q: What if law enforcement officers threaten me with a grand jury subpoena if I don’t answer their questions? (A grand jury subpoena is a written order for you to go to court and testify about information you may have.)
A: If a law enforcement officer threatens to get a subpoena, you still do not have to answer the officer’s questions right then and there, and anything you do say can be used against you. The officer may or may not succeed in getting a subpoena. If you receive a subpoena or an officer threatens to get one for you, you should call a lawyer right away. If you are given a subpoena, you must follow the subpoena’s direction about when and where to report to the court, but you can still assert your right not to say anything that could be used against you in a criminal case. Back to Top
II. STOPS AND ARRESTS
Q: What if law enforcement officers stop me on the street?
A: You do not have to answer any questions. You can say, “I do not want to talk to you” and walk away calmly. Or, if you do not feel comfortable doing that, you can ask if you are free to go. If the answer is yes, you can consider just walking away. Do not run from the officer. If the officer says you are not under arrest, but you are not free to go, then you are being detained. Being detained is not the same as being arrested, though an arrest can follow. The police can pat down the outside of your clothing only if they have “reasonable suspicion” (i.e., an objective reason to suspect) that you might be armed and dangerous. If they search any more than this, say clearly, “I do not consent to this search.” If they keep searching anyway, do not physically resist them. You do not need to answer any questions if you are detained or arrested, except that the police may ask for your name once you have been detained, and you can be arrested in some states for refusing to provide it. Back to Top
Q: What if law enforcement officers stop me in my car?
A: Keep your hands where the police can see them. You must show your driver’s license, registration and proof of insurance if you are asked for these documents. Officers can also ask you to step outside of the car, and they may separate passengers and drivers from each other to question them and compare their answers, but no one has to answer any questions. The police cannot search your car unless you give them your consent, which you do not have to give, or unless they have “probable cause” to believe (i.e., knowledge of facts sufficient to support a reasonable belief) that criminal activity is likely taking place, that you have been involved in a crime, or that you have evidence of a crime in your car. If you do not want your car searched, clearly state that you do not consent. The officer cannot use your refusal to give consent as a basis for doing a search. Back to Top
Q: What should I do if law enforcement officers arrest me?
A: The officer must advise you of your constitutional rights to remain silent, to an attorney, and to have an attorney appointed if you cannot afford one. You should exercise all these rights, even if the officers don’t tell you about them. Do not tell the police anything except your name. Anything else you say can and will be used against you. Ask to see a lawyer immediately. Within a reasonable amount of time after your arrest or booking you have the right to a phone call. Law enforcement officers may not listen to a call you make to your lawyer, but they can listen to calls you make to other people. You must be taken before a judge as soon as possible – generally within 48 hours of your arrest at the latest. Back to Top
Q: Do I have to answer questions if I have been arrested?
A: No. If you are arrested, you do not have to answer any questions or volunteer any information. Ask for a lawyer right away. Repeat this request to every officer who tries to talk to or question you. You should always talk to a lawyer before you decide to answer any questions. Back to Top
Q: What if I am treated badly by law enforcement officers?
A: Write down the officer’s badge number, name or their identifying information. You have a right to ask the officer for this information. Try to find witnesses and their names and phone numbers. If you are injured, seek medical attention and take pictures of the injuries as soon as you can. Call a lawyer or contact your local ACLU office. You should also make a complaint to the law enforcement office responsible for the treatment. Back to Top
III. SEARCHES AND WARRANTS
Q: Can law enforcement officers search my home or office?
A: Law enforcement officers can search your home only if they have a warrant or your consent. In your absence, the police can search your home base on the consent of your roommate or a guest if the police reasonably believe that person has the authority to consent. Law enforcement officers can search your office only if they have a warrant or consent of the employer. If your employer consents to a search of your office, law enforcement officers can search your workplace whether you consent or not. Back to Top
Q: What are warrants and what should I make sure they say?
A: A warrant is a piece of paper signed by a judge giving law enforcement officers permission to enter a home or other building to do a search or make an arrest. A Search warrant allows law enforcement officers to enter the place described in the warrant to look for and take items identified in the warrant. An arrest warrant allows law enforcement officers to take you into custody. An arrest warrant alone does not give law enforcement officers the right to search your home [but they can look in places where you might be hiding and they can take evidence that is in plain sight], and a search warrant alone does not give them the right to arrest you [ but they can arrest you if they find enough evidence to justify an arrest]. Back to Top
Q: What should I do if officers come to my house?
A: If law enforcement officers knock on your door, instead of opening the door, ask through the door if they have a warrant. If the answer is no, do not let them into your home and do not answer any questions or say anything other than “I do not want to talk to you.” If the officers say that they do have a warrant, ask the officers to slip it under the door [or show it to you through a peephole, a window in your door, or a door that open only enough to see the warrant]. If you feel you must open the door, then step outside, close the door behind you and ask to see the warrant. Make sure the search warrant contains everything noted above, and tell the officers if they are at the wrong address or if you see some other mistake in the warrant. [And remember that an immigration “warrant of removal/deportation” does not give the officer authority to enter your home.] If you tell the officers that the warrant is not complete or not accurate, you should say you do not consent to the search, but you should not interfere if the officers decide to do the search even after you have told them they are mistaken. Call your lawyer as soon as possible. Ask if you are allowed to watch the search; if you are allowed to, you should. Take notes, including names, badge numbers, which agency each officer is from, where they searched and what they took. If others are present, have them act as witnesses to watch carefully what is happening. Back to Top
Q: What if law enforcement officers do not have a search warrant?
A: You do not have to let law enforcement officers search your home, and you do not have to answer their questions. Law enforcement officers cannot get a warrant based on your refusal, nor can they punish you for refusing to give consent. Back to Top
Q: What if law enforcement officers tell me they will come back with a search warrant if I do not let them in?
A: You can still tell them that you do not consent to the search and that they need to get a warrant. The officers may or may not succeed in getting a warrant if they follow through and ask the court for one, but once you give your consent, they do not need to try to get the court’s permission to do the search. Back to Top
Q: What if law enforcement officers do not have a search warrant, but they insist on searching my home even after I object?
A: You should not interfere with the search in any way because you could get arrested. But you should say clearly that you have not given your consent and that the search is against your wishes. If someone is there with you, ask him or her to witness that you are not giving permission for the search. Call your lawyer as soon as possible. Take note of the names and badge numbers of the searching officers.Back to Top
IV. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION FOR NON-CITIZENS
In the United States, non-citizens are person who do not have U.S. Citizenship, including lawful permanent residents, refugees and asylum seekers, persons who have permission to come to the U.S. for reasons like work, school or travel, and those without legal immigration status of any kind. Non-citizens who are in the United States – no matter what their immigration status-generally have the same constitutional rights as citizens when law enforcement officers stop, question, arrest, or search them or their homes. However, there are some special concerns that apply to non-citizens, so the following rights and responsibilities are important for non-citizens to know. Non-citizens at the border who are trying to enter the U.S. do not have all the same rights. See section V for more information if you are arriving in the U.S.Back to Top
Q: Do I have to answer questions whether I am a U.S. citizen, where I was born, where I live, where I am from, or other questions about my immigration status?
A: You do not have to answer any of the above questions if you do not want to answer them. But do not falsely claim U.S. citizenship. It is almost always a good idea to speak with a lawyer before you answer questions about your immigration status. Immigration law is very complicated, and you could have a problem without realizing it. A lawyer can help protect your rights, advise you, and help you avoid a problem. Always remember that even if you have answered some questions, you can still decide you do not want to answer any more questions.Back to Top
For “nonimmigrants” [a “nonimmigrant” is a non-citizen who is authorized to be in the U.S. for a particular reason or activity, usually for a limited period of time, such as a person with a tourist, student, or work visa], there is one limited exception to the rule that non-citizens who are already in the U.S. do not have to answer law enforcement officers’ questions: immigration officers can require nonimmigrants to provide information related to their immigration status. However, even if you are a nonimmigrant, you can still say that you would like to have your lawyer with you before you answer any questions, and you have the right to stay silent if your answer to a questions could be used against you in a criminal case.
Q: Do I have to show officers my immigration documents?
A: The law requires non-citizens who are 18 or older and who have been issued valid U.S. immigration documents to carry those documents with them at all times. [These immigration documents are often called “alien registration” documents. The type you need to carry depends on your immigration status. Some examples include an unexpired permanent resident card [“green card”], I-94, Employment Authorization Document [EAD], or border crossing card.] Failure to comply carry these documents can be a misdemeanor crime.
If you have your valid U.S. immigration documents and you are asked for them, then it is usually a good idea to show them to the officer because it is possible that you will be arrested if you do not do so. Keep a copy of your documents in a safe place and apply for a replacement immediately if you lose your documents or if they are going to expire. If you are arrested because you do not have your U.S. immigration documents with you, but you have them elsewhere, ask a friend or family member [preferably one who has valid immigration status] to bring them to you.
It is never a good idea to show an officer fake immigration documents or to pretend that someone else’s immigration documents are yours. If you are undocumented and therefore so not have valid U.S. immigration documents, you can decide not to answer questions about your citizenship or immigration status or whether you have documents. If you tell an immigration officer that you are not a U.S. citizen and you cannot produce valid U.S. immigration documents, there is a very good chance you will be arrested. Back to Top
Q: What should I do if there is an immigration raid where I work?
A: If your workplace is raided, it may not be clear to you whether you are free to leave. Either way, you have the right to remain silent- you do not have to answer questions about your citizenship, immigration status or anything else. If you do answer questions and you say that you are not a U.S. citizen, you will be expected to produce immigration documents showing your immigration status. If you try to run away, the immigration officers assume that you are in the U.S. illegally and you will likely be arrested. The safer course is to continue with your work or calmly ask if you may leave, and to not answer any questions you do not want to answer. [If you are a “nonimmigrant,” see above.] Back to Top
Q: What should I do if immigration officers arrest me?
A: Assert your rights. Non-citizens have rights that are important for their immigration cases. You do not have to answer questions. You can tell the officer you want to speak with a lawyer. You do not have to sign anything giving up your rights, and should never sign anything without reading, understanding and knowing the consequences of signing it. If you do sign a waiver, immigration agents could try to deport you before you see a lawyer or a judge. The immigration laws are hard to understand. There may be options for you that the immigration officers will not explain to you. You should talk to a lawyer before signing anything or making a decision about your situation. If possible, carry with you the name and telephone number of a lawyer who will take your calls. Back to Top
Q: Do I have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any law enforcement officers’ questions or signing any immigration papers?
A: Yes. You have the right to call a lawyer or your family if you are detained, and you have the right to be visited by a lawyer in detention. You have the right to have your attorney with you at any hearing before an immigration judge. You do not have the right to a government appointed attorney for immigration proceedings but immigration officials must give you a list of free or low-cost legal services providers. You have the right to hire your own immigration attorney. Back to Top
Q: If I am arrested for immigration violations, do I have the right to a hearing before an immigration judge to defend myself against deportation charges?
A: Yes. In most cases only an immigration judge can order you deported. But if you waive your rights, sign something called “Stipulated Removal Order,” or take “voluntary departure,” agreeing to leave the country, you could be deported without a hearing. There are some reasons why a person might not have a right to see an immigration judge, but even if you are told that this is your situation, you should speak with a lawyer immediately-immigration officers do not always know or tell you about exceptions that may apply to you; and you could have a right that you do not know about. Also, it is very important that you tell the officer (and contact a lawyer) immediately if you fear persecution or torture in your home country-you have additional rights if you have this fear, and you may be able to win the right to stay here. Back to Top
Q: Can I be detained while my immigration case is happening?
A: In many cases, you will be detained, but most people are eligible to be released on bond or other reporting conditions. If you are denied release after you are arrested for an immigration violation, ask for a bond hearing before an immigration judge. In many cases, an immigration judge can order that you be released or that your bond be lowered. Back to Top
Q: Can I call my consulate if I am arrested?
A: Yes. Non-citizens arrested in the U.S. have the right to call their consulate or to have the law enforcement officer tell the consulate of your arrest. Law enforcement must let your consulate visit or speak with you if consular officials decide to do so. Your consulate might help you find a lawyer or offer other help. Back to Top
Q: What happens if I give up my right to a hearing or leave the U.S. before the hearing?
A: If you are deported, you could lose your eligibility for certain immigration benefits, and you could be barred from returning to the U.S. for a number of years or, in some cases, permanently. The same id true if you do not go to your hearing and the immigration judge rules against you in your absence. If the government allows you to do “voluntary departure,” you may avoid some of the problems that come with having a deportation order and you may have a better chance at having a future opportunity to return to the U.S., but you should discuss your case with a lawyer because even with voluntary departure, there can be bars to returning, and you may be eligible for relief in immigration court. You should always talk to an immigration lawyer before you decide to give up your right to a hearing. Back to Top
Q: What if I am charged with a crime?
A: Criminal convictions can make you deportable. You should always speak with your lawyer about the effect that a conviction or plea could have on your immigration status. Do not agree to a plea bargain without understanding if it could make you deportable or ineligible for relief or for citizenship. Back to Top