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Guidelines to understanding criminal law

By Chesley Payne

Criminal law is an area of law that can affect you, a family member or a friend at one time or another in your life. In the event you are accused of a criminal act or questioned by police regarding a criminal act, please keep in mind these guidelines.

You are entitled to counsel. This is one of the most important rights contained within the Bill of Rights. The Sixth Amendment guarantees you the right to counsel in the event you are held or questioned by the police. No matter the situation, it’s important that you have legal counsel when dealing with a criminal issue. Having an advocate in your corner to explain what you can, should and should not do is invaluable in the event you become involved in the criminal justice system.

The Bill of Rights also guarantees your right against self-incrimination. People who are trying to prove their innocence will too often agree to sign confessions or give statements that may not be in their best interest. In the event you are asked to answer questions by a law enforcement official, you have the right not to answer their questions. In the event you are being questioned by law enforcement, it’s often in your best interest to assert your right to remain silent and exercise your right to an attorney.

You should be courteous to all law enforcement officials. There is a time to assert your legal position. However, it’s rarely appropriate when being detained at a traffic stop or some other occasion in which law enforcement is curtailing your liberty. Law enforcement officials have incredibly difficult jobs and are subject to enormous amounts of stress on a daily basis. It’s not uncommon for a simple misunderstanding to amount to an arrestable offense simply by being rude and uncooperative with the reasonable request of a law enforcement official. For example, during a traffic stop at night, turning on the overhead light in your car can allow the law enforcement official to clearly see you and your passengers and reduce the officer’s stress as to your intentions. The officer is generally entitled to request your driver’s license and insurance information. Providing these documents immediately can greatly speed up the process and avoid wasting your and the officer’s time.

In the event you are stopped or questioned by law enforcement officials, follow these guidelines to ensure you are allowed all protections permitted by the law and to reduce the chance a misunderstanding might lead to additional headaches for all parties involved.

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