You Have the Right to Remain Silent

In most TV cop dramas, the crime is solved when police finally get the suspect to talk—before a lawyer is called in. So you might think that if you’re arrested you have to give the police everything they ask for. But here are the facts, and your rights.

What to do if you’re arrested on suspicion of drugs or alcohol (or for any reason)

It’s natural to want to talk to the police if you’ve been arrested. Most of us want to obey authority, or at least fear it enough to do what is asked. But you can end up giving up your legal rights if you don’t talk to a lawyer first. Know that your most important right, should you be arrested, is to remain silent. Follow these guidelines:

Talking to the police

  • No matter what you are threatened with, never talk to the police. You have the “right to remain silent”—exercise it.
  • Be courteous and cooperative. Provide basic information such as your name, date of birth, address, etc., as requested. Address them as “Sir” or “Ma’am.” But do not submit to questioning.
  • Keep your hands in clear view and inform them when you are reaching for items in your pocket, wallet, purse, or glove box to allay suspicions of concealed weapons.
  • Politely inform the police, “Before I can speak to you, I must speak with my lawyer.”
  • Don’t admit anything.
  • Don’t sign anything.
  • If you receive a ticket, accept it. Do not argue. Your lawyer can deal with it later.
  • Know your Miranda rights. Miranda rights are not in effect until after an arrest, so if you are not under arrest, anything you say could be used against you later if an arrest is made, which is why you should tell police you need to speak to your lawyer before speaking to them. There are 4 essential points to the Miranda Warning:
    1. You have the right to remain silent
    2. What you do say can be used against you in court
    3. You have to right to have a lawyer with you before and during questioning
    4. If you can’t afford a lawyer, one will be appointed at no cost to you

Tests and searches

  • You do not have to submit to a breathalyzer or sobriety test. However, the penalty for not taking the test is severe (Illinois Statute 625-5/6-208.1)—a possible 1-year license suspension—and harsher than the punishment for a first-offense DUI.
  • You have the right to refuse a search. Though officers may cite probable cause in searching the cabin of your car, your consent or a warrant is required for the trunk and more invasive searches. Object verbally, but do not resist physically.

Immigrant status

Undocumented (illegal) immigrants face harsher penalties when arrested on suspicion of drug- or alcohol-related driving offenses, primarily because these types of arrests are felonies when you don’t have a driver’s license—immigrant or not. However, for citizens with driver’s licenses, the first offense is a misdemeanor. The good news is that Illinois offers a driver’s license for undocumented (non-Visa status) individuals. Obtaining a legal license further protects you in the event you are pulled over and subject to arrest or interrogation.

It’s Rare, But Be Prepared

Being questioned or arrested is stressful and scary. It’s hopefully not an experience to get used to, but it is one you can be prepared for. Be courteous, cooperative… and quiet! Politely inform police that you’d like to cooperate, but your lawyer recommends you speak with him or her before speaking with police. And then call the Epstein Law Firm at 773-522-7000

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /


This post is also available in: Spanish

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