It may seem like it is obvious when you are in police custody, but in truth, that question can become legally complicated. In fact, there are several reasons that the police like to blur the line between being in custody and being free, due to the legal implications of placing someone in custody. But how do you know if you are in police custody, and why does that matter?
What Does it Mean to Be in Custody?
If you are in police custody, that means that the police have placed you under arrest and you are being held in a state-controlled facility, such as a jail or prison. While you are in custody, you are not free to leave of your own volition, and the police can perform searches or seizures on your person without your consent. In addition, the police can question you until you either invoke your Fifth Amendment rights or obtain a lawyer.
Why Does it Matter if You Are in Custody?
Aside from the obvious, one of the most important things about being in police custody is that a number of your legal and constitutional rights do not apply until you are in custody. For example, your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination only applies if you are in police custody or speaking in front of a criminal proceeding, and your Sixth Amendment right to counsel also only applies when you are in custody. This is because the law assumes that if you are not in custody and you do not want to speak to the police, you can simply get up and leave. In practice, this also means you cannot seek to have any statement you made to the police suppressed for violating your rights, if you were not in custody when you made the statement.
How Should You Know if You are in Custody?
The primary determinant as to whether you are in police custody is whether or not you are free to leave. Even if you are not in a police station, jail, or prison, you might still be considered to be in custody if the police prevent you from leaving your current location. If you are talking to the police, and they refuse to let you go, you should assume you are under arrest and act accordingly.
What Should You Do?
If you find yourself speaking to the police and they refuse to let you leave, the first thing you should do is tell them you are exercising your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Then, you should contact a lawyer with experience handling criminal defense matters, who can represent you and advise you on your case. That way, you can get the best possible outcome and minimize your potential legal risks.
If you or someone you know has been arrested for a criminal offense, you will need legal counsel to help you preserve your rights and work to get the best possible outcome for your matter. A New York criminal defense lawyer, who is experienced in handling criminal cases of all sorts, can advise you of your legal rights and will fight for your best interests in court. If you or your loved one has been arrested, contact the Suffolk County criminal defense attorneys at McGuire, Peláez and Bennett at (631) 348-1702.