Monday, April 9, 2012

Know Your Rights, Pt. 2: At Your Home

Today, we'll continue on with our dissection of your rights regarding contact with the police.  Last week, we kicked this series off by look at what you have to do and what you don't have to do when pulled over in your vehicle.  Today, we'll examine the less common but more "fraught-with-potential-disaster" situation of police showing up at your home in an effort to speak with you.  Again, keep in mind, this information is intended to be used only as a rough guideline to use if you're put in a situation like this.  If you encounter a situation where police show up at your home to speak with you about your involvement in a crime or your knowledge of a crime, the best thing you can do is contact a Minnesota criminal defense attorney immediately in order to best protect your rights.

We'll set the stage.  You're at home on a lazy Thursday evening preparing dinner and watching your favorite television program (maybe "Family Feud with Steve Harvey") when, all of a sudden, there is a loud knock at your front door.  You walk over to the door, look through the peep hole, and see two uniformed police officers standing on the other side.  At this point, you're mind is racing.  "What could they want?" you wonder.  Every little misdeed you've ever committed is now at the forefront of your mind.  Startled and vulnerable, you open the door.  (Note:  You're not required to open the door.  You can tell them through the door that you'd prefer to not open it for them, but unless you've got marijuana smoke billowing out of your front door or something like that, just open the door.)

You greet the officers with a simple "Good evening."  They ask if you are you, to which you reply "yes."  The officer on your left (who's clearly in charge of this show) tells you that they're investigating a break-in that occurred down the street a couple of nights ago and were wondering you could answer a few questions for them.  This is the beginning of when you need to be vigilant regarding your rights.  What you tell the officers will be used by them to attempt to solve the mystery of the break-in.  Whether or not you are a suspect in the crime doesn't matter.  The job of police is to solve crimes, and if you give them a reason to wonder whether you were involved, they will.

Your response to their initial questions should be something along the lines of "I'm not sure I'll be of much assistance to you, officers, but I'll do my best to help."  Police have a tough job, and offering to help them in any way you can will go a long ways.  Whether you are a suspect or not, it's likely that you will be asked if the officers can come inside.  You do not have to let them into your home, so it's completely up to you whether you choose to allow them in.  There are two reasons officers want to come inside to question you.  One is comfort, both theirs and yours.  Sitting on your couch and talking is much more comfortable than standing outside in the cold to speak with you.  You will probably be more comfortable, as well, because sitting in your living room with the police is a lot less intimidating than going to the station to give a statement. The second reason is that by gaining entrance to your home, the officers will have the opportunity to look around and see if any of the missing items from the burglarized house are in your home.  I know the odds seem small that the actual thief would be dumb enough to leave stolen materials laying around their house, but you'd be surprised.  Police don't use this trick because it's a waste of time.  Even if you aren't the person who broke into the house in question, it's possible that you have the same television, pewter picture frame, or Target-issue lamp that the victims had taken from them.  You can save yourself the hassle of proving that your property is, indeed, your property by just telling the officers that you're perfectly comfortable speaking in your doorway.

By talking to the officers at your doorstep, you might encourage them to be a little quicker with their line of questioning.  If it's cold or there's precipitation falling, they likely won't take too much of your time.  Unless you're a suspect, it's unlikely they'll ask you to accompany them to the station to speak, but we'll get to that scenario on Wednesday.  For the time being, offer to speak to them at the doorstep.  If you'd be more comfortable speaking with the door chain connected, feel free to do so.  Do not walk outside and don't let them inside.

Now, once they start asking questions, it's very important to listen carefully to what kinds of things they are asking you.  If, in your opinion, the questions they are asking you are intended to determine your level of involvement in the crime they are investigating, you should refuse to answer any more questions without your attorney present.  Questions that should trigger this concern are things like "where were you the night of...," or anything that seems overly broad.  If they ask something like "Do you know anything about the burglary?" you need to be wary about how long of an answer you give.  This type of questions encourages the questioned party to offer up a lot of information without a specific path.  The best thing to do is to keep your answers to any questions short to avoid offering up information you didn't intend to disclose.

If the officers are asking questions like "Did you see or hear anything out of the ordinary" or "Have you noticed any suspicious people in the neighborhood in recent days," it's unlikely they consider you anything other than a potential witness.  Many times, people witness a crime without even realizing it.  Police know this, so they ask these kinds of questions to see if you noticed something that you didn't realize might be connected with the crime.  Feel free to answer these questions.

If you are the focus of a criminal investigation, the officers might not be so friendly.  If the officers really want entrance into your home, they will say a lot of things to try to get you to consent.  It's much easier for them to get permission to enter than it is for them to go to a judge and get a warrant.  They'll say things like "This will go a lot easier if you just let us in," "We just want to ask you a few questions.  You don't have anything to worry about," or "If you don't let us in, we'll just go get a warrant and try this again."  Remember that no matter what the police say to you, they don't have the right to enter your home without your permission unless they have a warrant.  Tell them to get the warrant and then come back.  Again, if they want to talk to you bad enough, they will ask you to come with them to the station.  I'll tell you what to do in that situation on Wednesday.

If the police just want to know if you saw anything that could be useful to them, the conversation will likely be pretty quick.  If they are investigating you to determine if you had any involvement in the crime, it may be a more lengthy conversation if you allow it to continue.  Again, if you believe that the line of questioning being utilized by police is an attempt to build a case against you or support a charge against you, refrain from answering any further questions and contact a Minnesota criminal defense lawyer immediately.  Even if you KNOW you are not responsible for the crime in question, this won't protect you from being charged, or even from being convicted.  Don't leave your freedom up to chance.  Contact your local Minnesota defense attorney to make sure you are protected.

As always, none of the information contained within this article is intended to act as legal advice or advertising.  Minnesota Criminal Law Blog is intended to be used for entertainment purposes only.  If you are in need of legal advice or representation, stop looking to internet articles for answers and call or email a Minnesota criminal law attorney today.

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