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Arrest Checklist: Has the State Violated My Constitutional Rights?

Criminal suspects and defendants have a series of rights. The U.S. Constitution guarantees and protects these rights. Other rights arise from state law and other justifications. Your constitutional rights and human rights may be in jeopardy when the police officers arrest you.

Knowing your rights when dealing with law enforcement is essential. If the state has accused you of a crime, how will you know if it has violated these rights?

An experienced criminal law attorney can answer this question. The checklist of rights below may also provide you with guidance.

Arrest Checklist

Read and respond to the questions below. Review your answers with the explanations below in mind. This should clarify whether the state has violated your rights. If you still have questions about your civil rights or the legitimacy of criminal charges, contact a local criminal law attorney.

Yes/No

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Law enforcement allowed me to remain silent. One of the most important rights a defendant has is the right to remain silent. Law enforcement can't force you to divulge information. This right stems from the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. The law doesn't require you to prove the state's case for them. The police are responsible for developing the evidence to prove you committed a crime. The Supreme Court confirmed the right to remain silent in Miranda v. Arizona. If the police coerce or force you into speaking, they have violated your rights.

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The arresting officer told me that the state could use anything I said against me in a court of law. Law enforcement officers must inform you that if you choose to speak, "anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law." If they tell you they had the right to remain silent but didn't inform you of the consequences of making a statement, they may have violated your 5th Amendment rights.

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Law enforcement let me have an attorney present when I requested one. If the police arrest or interrogate you, you have an absolute right to have an attorney present. This right persists during questioning and trial. If you request an attorney during questioning and the police deny that request, they may have violated your rights.

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The officers did not ask questions without my attorney present. Once you request the assistance of an attorney, the police can't question you later without your attorney. The right to have an attorney present continues beyond the first discussion with the police.

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The state did not force me to pay for my attorney's services. The Constitution gives you the right to a state-paid, appointed attorney if you can't afford one. If you fall within this category, the state will assign a public defender to represent you.

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Although I initially didn't ask for an attorney, I asked for one later in my questioning. The police stopped their questioning and started again when my attorney arrived. In many situations, criminal suspects have false confidence that they can handle the matter on their own without the assistance of an attorney. A criminal suspect who decides to answer police questions without an attorney present still has the right to ask for an attorney at any later point. Once a suspect asks for an attorney, law enforcement must stop all questioning until the attorney arrives.

____

Law enforcement and the corrections officers treated me treated humanely. Unfortunately, police brutality and unfair treatment continue to occur in the United States. A criminal suspect has a right to humane treatment, no matter how heinous their alleged crime. If the police did not treat you humanely, they may have violated your rights. For instance, if the officers deprived you of food and water or beat you during police questioning, they have violated your rights.

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The police did not detain me unfairly. The government can't hold you for an extended period of time without charging you with a crime. If the police place you in a holding cell under suspicion of murder, the government must officially charge you with that crime within a specified period. In some states, the prosecutor must charge you within 48 hours. In other states, the time limit is different—sometimes 72 hours. If the police hold you without charging you for longer than the legal amount of time, they may have violated your rights.

____

The state did not treat me like I was guilty before the judge convicted me. Corrections officers must interact with criminal suspects in jail awaiting trial, but they may not treat them as guilty. They cannot do so until the state has convicted them of a crime. This is true regardless of how strong the evidence is against them. The cornerstone of the U.S. criminal justice system is the belief that all people are innocent until proven guilty. If the jailers punish or mistreat you while you're awaiting trial, they may have violated your rights.

____

I received a speedy trial. The Sixth Amendment to the Constitution affords you the right to a "speedy trial." Once the government charges you with a crime, it cannot purposefully delay commencing a trial against you. If it does, the state may have violated your rights.

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Corrections officers did not subject me to "cruel and unusual punishment" while I was in jail or prison. The U.S. Constitution's Eighth Amendment guarantees that prisoners are free from "cruel and unusual punishment." Once a judge hands down a criminal conviction, the prison system must refrain from "cruel and unusual" punishment. Any punishment that seems inhumane or violates the basic concept of a person's dignity may be cruel and unusual. For example, it may be a violation of your rights if jailers use racial discrimination when doling out meals.

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The arresting officer did a pat down before arresting me. The officer limited their pat down to a search for dangerous weapons. Law enforcement has a right to stop and frisk a criminal suspect to ensure the individual does not have a weapon on them. As long as the officer has reasonable suspicion that a crime is underway and that the suspect has a weapon and is dangerous, they can perform a pat-down. The Fourth Amendment does not prohibit this basic search, given that the police do a pat down to protect the officer and public safety.

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Law enforcement took reasonable steps to provide me with medical attention. Arrestees have a right to medical treatment during their arrest, criminal investigation, and interrogation. Under the Fourth Amendment, arresting officers and other law enforcement members must provide suspects with immediate medical care, especially for severe medical conditions. If the officer intentionally deprives a suspect of medical care, it may constitute a rights violation under the 8th Amendment, depending on when in the detention process the violation occurs.

____

The police officer showed me a search warrant before thoroughly searching my vehicle. The Fourth Amendment protects U.S. citizens from unlawful searches and seizures. Generally, the police need a warrant to search your person or property. But there are exceptions to the warrant requirement. For example, if the police already have an arrest warrant, they can conduct a search under that warrant. They can also search your vehicle if you consent to it or if they have probable cause to believe that evidence of a crime is in your motor vehicle.

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My attorney told me that a guilty plea may result in deportation. In March 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that immigrant defendants have a right to know that the government may deport them if they plead guilty to a criminal offense. This means their immigration status may change, and they may be unable to reenter the country. A conviction or guilty plea may also prevent an immigrant from becoming a U.S. citizen. Court-appointed counsel must review the defendant's immigration documents and advise their client of this risk.

Talk to an Attorney about Your Rights

If the police arrest you and charge you with a crime, it will be scary. It's essential that you know your rights. If you find yourself in a criminal case, seek legal services immediately. If you can't contact a criminal lawyer, ask a family member to do so or ask them to find the phone number of a good local attorney for you.

Your attorney will ensure that the police don't violate your constitutional rights. They may also be able to work hard to get the state to drop the charges it has filed against you. Or they can defend you against these charges.

Visit Findlaw's attorney directory of criminal attorneys to find a criminal lawyer near you.

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