Henry F. Sherrod III, P.C.

Alabama Civil Rights and Employment Lawyer

Civil Rights FAQ

What rights do you have when you are questioned by the police?

You have the right to remain silent. If you choose to speak, anything you say can be used against you in court. If you decide to answer any questions, you may stop at any time. The law requires all questioning to cease.

You have the right to consult with your attorney before answering any questions. You have the right to have your attorney present if you decide to answer any questions, and if you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you or appointed for you by the court without cost to you before any further questions may be asked.

How much evidence is required for an arrest?

The law requires an officer to have probable cause to believe you committed the crime for which you are arrested. "Probable cause" basically means a reasonable basis for believing you are guilty of the offense. What is a reasonable basis depends on the circumstances. The "probable cause" standard is significantly lower than the "beyond a reasonable doubt" standard required for conviction.

What are your rights after you have been arrested?

You have a right to know the charges against you. You have the right to communicate by telephone with your attorney or family or friend or bondsman as soon after you are brought to the police station as practical. The police have a right to complete their booking procedures before you are allowed to use the telephone.

May a law enforcement officer detain you without arresting you?

If there is a reasonable suspicion that you may be involved in criminal activity, a police officer may require you to identify yourself and explain what you are doing or why you are in a particular area (often because the area is considered a high crime area).

If the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that you are armed or may be dangerous, he or she may conduct a limited pat down of your outer garments for the purpose of detecting weapons. How long this detention may last before it is considered an arrest depends on the circumstances. Courts have approved of "temporary" detentions lasting over an hour. Sometimes police officers will be justified in detaining you while they obtain a search warrant.

The officer may ask you questions pursuant to an investigation. You have a constitutional right not to answer them, but if you refuse to identify yourself, the officer may have grounds to make an arrest.

At the conclusion of any temporary detention, the officer ordinarily must either arrest you or let you go.

When may you be arrested with a warrant?

A police officer may arrest you at any time if there is a warrant for your arrest or if they have knowledge that a warrant for your arrest has been issued.

A police officer must show the warrant to you as soon as possible and inform you of the offense charged.

When may you be arrested without a warrant?

A police officer may make an arrest without a warrant only under certain limited circumstances in Alabama. An officer may arrest anyone who commits an offense in the officer's presence. An officer may arrest a person if informed by a credible person that a felony has been committed and that the offender is about to escape and there is no time to get a warrant. Examples of felonies include murder, rape, robbery, burglary, and sale of narcotics. Domestic violence arrests may also be made without a warrant.

When may you be searched?

If you are arrested in your home, an officer may conduct a limited search of the immediate area where you are arrested without a search warrant. The officer may also check the rest of the house for any accomplices and may seize any contraband, stolen property, or evidence of a crime discovered in plain view in any portion of the house where the officer has a right to be.

When you are arrested while driving your automobile, the officer may make a limited search of your car at the time for the purpose of discovering weapons that might be used against them. The officer may not make a general search of your automobile unless there is independent probable cause that the vehicle is carrying evidence of crime or contraband. If a search is requested by an officer, you are not required to give consent.

Also, a police officer may be entitled to conduct a more thorough "inventory search" of your vehicle or personal property in police custody after an arrest.

What procedures are usually followed when you are arrested?

The officer will take you to a police station, jail, or other detention facility. Upon arrival at the jail or shortly thereafter, you will be afforded the opportunity to contact an attorney. You will be advised generally as to the charges against you. You may be fingerprinted and photographed.

You may also be required to:

  • participate in a lineup;
  • prepare a sample of your handwriting;
  • speak phrases associated with the crime with which you are charged,
  • wear certain clothes; or
  • give a sample of your hair, blood, etc.

You should request to have your attorney present during any of the above procedures.

You must be taken before a magistrate (a court official who may exercise some functions of a judge) within a short time of your arrest. The magistrate will inform you of the charge filed against you and your rights.

How do you arrange for a lawyer?

If you are not acquainted with a lawyer and have no lawyer whom you would call, you may contact the State Bar of Alabama Lawyer Referral service at 1-800-392-5660.

If you cannot afford a private lawyer, you should advise the judge of this fact at your first appearance or as soon as possible. The judge will ask you some questions to see if you are eligible for the services of an attorney at public expense.

What if you are sick or injured?

You have a right to necessary medical treatment for serious medical conditions while you are in custody. You should request medical treatment and explain your symptoms, including how long you have had them, to appropriate police or jail personnel. You may be required to complete a form.

When may your home be searched?

Generally, an officer may not enter your home without a search warrant supported by probable cause (a reasonable basis for believing evidence of a crime or a wanted person is located in your home), though an arrest warrant gives an officer authority to enter the person to be arrested's residence. An arrest warrant does not give an officer the right to enter a third party's home even if the person to be arrested is present unless certain "exigent circumstances" justifying the entry exist. Also, an officer may enter a home based on probable cause without a search warrant if certain "exigent circumstances" exist. "Exigent circumstances" that may justify a warrantless home entry include hot pursuit of a fleeing suspect, danger evidence will be lost or destroyed, danger of harm to officers or the public, and danger of flight or escape.

Should I file a complaint or grievance with the sheriff, police chief, an internal affairs officer, or other official?

If you believe your rights have been violated or have a complaint about how you were treated, it often makes sense to file a complaint or grievance. In fact, if you are filing suit while you are incarcerated, there is a law, the Prison Litigation Reform Act, that requires you to exhaust all administrative remedies, meaning you should follow any complaint procedures in place at the jail. If you are not incarcerated, you may want to consult an attorney before making a formal complaint.