Know Your Rights: What do I do if law enforcement agents come to question me?

With the current threat of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests made by President Trump, many readers may be wondering what rights they have if an ICE agent, police officer, or other law enforcement official comes to question them or their family.

To help all those who may not know what to do in this type of situation, we’ve put together a quick primer on what rights immigrants and citizens have if a law enforcement officer tries to question them.

Am I legally required to talk to a police, ICE, FBI, USCIS, or other law enforcement agent or investigator?

No. You are not legally obligated or required to talk to a law enforcement agent or investigator on the street, at your home, at your place of work, if you’ve been arrested, or even if you’re in jail.

The only instance where you are required to provide information is if a police officer is investigating a crime and they need your name and address.

Otherwise, only a judge has the legal authority to order you to answer questions.

Can I ask to go free if I am stopped on the street by a law enforcement agent or investigator?

Yes. If you are stopped by a police officer or other law enforcement agent, you can ask them why they are stopping you.

If they do not have a good reason for stopping you or if you find yourself chatting with them for more than a minute, ask, “Am I under arrest, or am I free to go?”

If they do not state that you are under arrest, tell them that you do not wish to continue speaking with them and that you are going to go about your business. Then do so.

Can I tell the agent or investigator to talk to my lawyer?

Yes. If you are nervous about simply refusing to talk to a law enforcement agent, you can tell them you would like to contact your lawyer. The law enforcement official should stop trying to question you once you announce your desire to consult with a lawyer.

Important: You do not already have to have a lawyer to say that you would like to consult with one.

Don’t forget to get the name, agency, and phone number(s) of any agent or investigator(s) who questioned you, so that you may give that information to your lawyer.

If you need help finding and getting a lawyer, you can contact the National Lawyers Guild for help.

How should I respond to threatening letters or calls?

If you, your family, or someone you work with has been threatened or had your home or office broken into, immediately share that information with everyone affected and take steps to increase personal and office security.

You should discuss with your lawyer whether and how to report such incidents to the police and whether further legal action is advisable.

If you do decide to make a report, do not do so without your lawyer present.

Do I have to let a law enforcement agent or investigator into my home or office without a search/arrest warrant?

No. If a law enforcement agent tries to come into your home or office, demand to see the search or arrest warrant. The warrant must be signed by a judge and specifically describe the place(s) to be searched and the thing(s) to be seized.

If they have a warrant, you cannot stop them from entering your home or office and searching; however, you should still tell them that you do not consent to a search, which will limit them to the scope of the search authorized by the warrant.

Important: A warrant does not give the law enforcement agent or investigator the right to question you, your family, or your coworkers, nor does it obligate or require you to answer any questions.

Do I have the right to monitor the search if the law enforcement agent or investigator has a warrant?

Yes. You have the right to observe what they do during the search.

You also have the right to ask them for their names, titles, badge numbers, and what agency they are from. Keep written notes of this information and their activities. You can also have your friends that are present act as witnesses.

If possible, record the search and your asking of their information.

Regardless of how you keep a record, give all the information to your lawyer as soon as possible after the search.

Should I talk to a law enforcement agent if they do not have a warrant?

No. It is best to not talk to a law enforcement agent or investigator if they do not have a warrant or within your lawyer present.

When speaking with law enforcement, you must be careful at all times. Law enforcement agents are trained to get information from people and are legally allowed to lie to you to obtain that information. Although agents may seem nice or that they are on your side, they are likely intent on learning about the habits, opinions, and affiliations of those they suspect of wrongdoing.

Many people may be afraid that if they refuse to cooperate or talk with law enforcement, it will appear as if they have something to hide. You are not legally required to talk to law enforcement. Trying to answer agents’ questions or “educate them” about your cause can be dangerous, especially without a lawyer.

If you do decide to speak with law enforcement or answer their questions, be concise and answer only the question asked. Do not volunteer any new or additional information outside of the question’s scope.

For example, if an agent asks for your name, only answer with your first name. If they ask for your last name, only answer with your last name. If they ask for you full name, only answer with your first and last name.

Do not be generous in providing information an agent did not ask for. You can never tell how a seemingly harmless bit of information you gave might be used or construed to hurt you or someone else.

Do you need assistance with your immigration or criminal case?

Elkhalil Law is here to help you with your immigration and/or criminal case. We offer in-person, over the phone, and Skype consultations. Contact us today so that we can discuss your case!

Office: (+1) 770-612-3499
WhatsApp: (+1) 678-900-6845

Note: This post was originally published on 1/22/15. It has been updated as of 6/25/19.

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Disclaimer: Nothing in relation to the enclosed information should be construed and or considered as legal advice for any individual, entity, case, or situation. The following information is prepared for advertisement use only. The information is intended ONLY to be general and should not be relied upon for any specific situation. For legal advice on your specific situation, we encourage you to consult an attorney experienced in the area of Immigration Law.