As I sit here on election day writing this article, I’m reminded of all the great freedoms and rights we as Americans share. The right against unreasonable search and seizures; the right to not incriminate ourselves; the right to free speech and assembly. Yes, we are the envy of the world when it comes to freedom. Yet, I also wonder why so many Americans either don’t know of these rights or how to exercise them.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked, “Lee, do I have to take the breath test?” or “Lee, do I have to answer questions of a police officer if stopped on the side of the road?” Others have asked over the years if they are obligated to allow an officer to search their person or car, or whether you must submit to field side sobriety exercises. Well Americans, sit back and enjoy the good news I’m about to bring you.
While refusing a breath test (or blood or urine testing) may have negative consequences in certain situations, you do have an option. You do not have to blow. An officer will tell a person that if they don’t blow, their license will be suspended. But what the officer will not tell the person is if they blow over the legal limit, then their license will be suspended as well. Although the suspension period for those who refuse will be a bit longer, most will be eligible for a hardship license and can also contest the suspension through a formal review hearing. Those who have refused for a second time (meaning a prior DUI arrest) could be subjected to an additional misdemeanor offense for refusing provided the request for the test was lawful.
What about answering questions? It almost pains me that this is a real question many people struggle with. If you are being asked questions that you are uncomfortable with, simply tell the officer that. Or, you can ask to speak to an attorney prior to answering questions about where you have been or what you have been doing. There is no penalty for refusing to talk! Can you believe that? Although it is never possible to offer legal advice on how to handle a hypothetical situation, it is important to remember what your rights and options are.
The same can be said of the decision to decline an officer’s request to search your person or your car. While there are certain exceptions to the warrant requirement (consent, search incident to lawful arrest, probable cause, etc.), there is no obligation to give consent to search. While many people feel that its rude to say “no” when asked, it is your right. Of course, you are free to allow the officer to search, but the Fourth Amendment protects our right against unreasonable searches without our consent.
Now, I’m off to vote. And don’t forget your right to vote is one of many! Know them, enjoy them and use them where you see fit!