Houston Criminal Defense Blog

Know Your Rights: Respectfully Interacting with Law Enforcement While Protecting Your Rights

arrested silent

Police and other law enforcement agencies play a vital role in keeping communities safe by maintaining order and enforcing state and federal criminal laws. Civilian encounters are a daily, commonplace occurrence as police go about their performing their duties.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics of the U.S. Department of Justice, traffic stops represent about 44 percent of the daily encounters that civilians in Houston and other locations throughout the country have with law enforcement. Regardless of the initial reason for police and civilian contact, the situation usually touches upon the rights of the individual.

For example, the federal statistics concerning routine traffic stops by police show that a ticket for a violation of state traffic laws was issued about 50 percent of the time. In 5 percent of the stops, drivers or their vehicles were subjected to a search by law enforcement officers.

Knowing your rights during an encounter with the police is important. Equally important is knowing the proper methods to exercise and protect those rights when stopped, questioned or taken into custody by police.

Basic Rights All Houston Residents Enjoy

When stopped by police, whether you are in a motor vehicle or strolling through a park, you have the following rights under the U.S. Constitution:

  • The right to remain silent – As a general rule, you do not have to answer questions or talk to the police. Exercising this right requires little more than remaining silent, but a better practice is to calmly and politely state that you are exercising your right to not answer questions or provide information.
  • The right to refuse to consent to a search – Unless a police officer has reasonable suspicion that you have committed or are committing a crime, you do not have to consent to a search of yourself, your vehicle or your home. If the officer does have reasonable suspicion, then he or she may lightly pat down your outer clothing to search for weapons if the officer believes that you pose a threat.
  • The right to walk away – Unless a police officer has probable cause to arrest you, or reasonable suspicion to detain you temporarily for questioning, you can leave. The best way to exercise this right is to first ask the officer if you are being detained. If you get a negative response, there is no reason why you cannot walk away.
  • The right to speak to an attorney – If you are under arrest, you have a right to be represented by an attorney. Do not make any statements or engage in conversations with anyone before your attorney arrives or before you at least talk to your lawyer over the telephone.

Knowing How To Say It And What To Do

Police in Houston receive training in how to act and what to do during encounters with civilians. Safety is a primary consideration for them as is protecting the rights of the individual who has been stopped. There are a few things you can do to protect your rights while not contributing to making the officer feel threatened:

  • Keep your hands where they can be seen – If you are in your car, open the window and place your hands on top of the steering wheel. If on the street or at your home, keep your hands out of and away from your pockets.
  • Do not run or walk away – Stay calm and allow the officer to approach you without attempting to move away.
  • Cooperate with the police officer – An officer may pat-down your clothing to determine if you have weapons. This is for safety reasons in situations where the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe observed suspicious activity warrants further investigation.
  • Speak in a calm and controlled tone of voice – Being respectful goes a long way toward maintaining a nonthreatening environment.
  • Keep track of what is said and done during the encounter. If you believe your rights have been violated, you may file a complaint through a Houston criminal defense attorney.

Identifying Yourself To The Houston Police

Talking to people is how police learn about what is going on in the communities in which they work. Just because a police officer asks to speak you does not mean that you have broken the law, so stay calm and avoid being argumentative or defensive.

Texas law allows a police officer to ask you for your name, address and date of birth. It is a violation of the law to refuse to give a police officer this information when you have been legally detained or arrested. A legal detention requires reasonable suspicion on the part of the officer to believe that you might be engaged in activity that violates the criminal laws.

Handling A Violation Of Your Rights

If you believe that your rights have been violated by a police officer in Houston or in another Texas community, a criminal defense attorney might be of assistance. By staying calm and keeping track of what is said and done during your encounter with the police, you will be able to provide your attorney with the information needed to properly represent you.


If you have questions about your rights during an arrest, contact the Law Offices of Billy Skinner. We will fight hard to protect your rights and preserve your freedom.

Photo Nick Gulotta | Used under Creative Commons image attribution license 2.0

Categories: Criminal Defense