Special Report: Do You 'Know Your Rights?'

Special Report: Do You 'Know Your Rights?'

COLUMBUS, GA (WTVM) - If you saw a police officer's blue lights flashing in your rear view mirror, would you know what to do?

We all know to pull over… but what happens next could be one of the most important encounters you ever have.

Would you know your rights in that situation?

We asked News Leader 9's Roslyn Giles to find out the facts and explain our rights in this special report.

Blue flashing lights can make anyone cringe, but traffic stops can be just as uneasy for the officer as it is for those getting pulled over.

"The officer really doesn't know what he's going into," explained Major J.D. Hawk, head of the Columbus Police Department's Patrol Division. "And for that reason he has to use extreme caution and good safety practices."

But sometimes, as in the Ferguson fatal shooting of Michael Brown and the chokehold death of Eric Garner in New York, police encounters can get out of hand.

"Just be obedient and be in compliance," is the advice Barbara Taylor gives to her 18-year-old grandson.

It's advice she lives by as well.

But when it comes to knowing her rights?

"No, I don't," Taylor said. "All I know is to be obedient to whatever commands they give me."

But Taylor and all Americans are protected by certain rights under the U.S. Constitution.

We decided to randomly ask people on the street what they know and don't know about their federal rights.


If you are pulled over and an officer asks for your ID, do you have to show it?

"I thought it was comply or I was going to have to make a phone call," said Carlos Howard.

Howard says he was recently stopped by five cops looking for a bank robber.

"I guess my comment was a bit witty...I said I don't know of preachers who rob a banks," Howard said.

Like Taylor, Howard is also uncertain as to whether he had to show his ID.

The answer is yes, the officer can require you to show your license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance, according to Georgia law.


Do you have to comply if ordered to leave a public area by a police officer?

Major Hawk has this advice:

"If an officer asks you to leave, it's not a good idea to stand your ground on a legal issue," Hawk said. "If something happens wrong, cooperate and take it up in court."

The law says if you disobey a police officer's order to leave you may be arrest... but is it legal?

It depends on why the officer is asking. If you are disrupting traffic, on private property without permission, the order is legal.

But if the officer is requesting that you leave a public space because he doesn't agree with your message, the order is not legal.


With the new world of technology, cameras are everywhere. Which brings us to our next question – can you record video of police?

According to the law, it is legal to openly record on-duty police officers in public places, but be careful. An officer can arrest you if you are obstructing an investigation.

Columbus state university police officers also come across some intense situations while patrolling campus.

Sergeant Michael Stewart, a 15-year law enforcement veteran with CSU and CPD combined, says most police encounters don't have to escalate to the boiling point.

"People have gone to jail when simply they could have walked away or gotten a citation or it could have been just some advice, there wouldn't have been anything but a verbal warning," Stewart said.


Can an officer search you on the street with no warrant when you are not under arrest?

If you voluntarily say yes, the officer has the right to search you or your possessions.

"An officer has the right to pat someone down in certain situations if there's a reason to suspect officer safety is an issue," Hawk said.

According to the law, full searches should only be conducted if there's probable cause to arrest you.

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution enforces the notion that your home is your castle, meaning you are secure from unreasonable searches and seizures. It also protects against arbitrary arrests and covers search warrants and stop and frisk.

The Fifth Amendment, on the other hand, protects against self-incrimination. It also requires due process of law, life, liberty or property.

To avoid getting in the back of police car like this and taking that unpleasant trip downtown to jail, officers say people follow what's called voluntary compliance and that's obeying what the officer's command.

One question that comes up at lot is if an officer asks you to get out of your car, do you have to comply? 

It depends on the situation and whether there's probable cause to be removed from the vehicle.

A legal expert says there's no reason for a person to get out of car for a minor traffic citation unless the officer thinks the drive is committing a crime or officer safety is an issue.

As a good practice, one attorney says to always ask the officer "am I being detained or am I free to go?"

Join the discussion on social media by using  #KnowYourRights.

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