Many Americans have probably read about oppressive governments in history books and thought, “Why didn’t the people stand up and stop this from happening?” In hindsight, it just seems so obvious that the people should have noticed and protested government overstepping its bounds. But often, it is less noticeable than some people might think.
Oppressive governments do not usually take away all freedom overnight. The government chips away a little freedom at a time. The slow and gradual process is done on purpose to prevent the people from rising up against the government. History shows how important it is for us to remain vigilant and know our rights.
Too often, people don’t know their constitutional rights until it’s too late. As a service center to small-government grassroots activists, FreedomWorks is working to educate citizens on their civil liberties in five main areas, beginning with your home, your car, and on the street.
For example, when the police is pounding and shouting at your door, no one has any time to do research. Do you have to let them in your house? What if they have no warrant but try to come in anyway? It’s better to know the answer before you are ever put in that tense situation.
You have every right to not consent to a search. Law enforcement cannot legally search your house without your consent or a warrant—a piece of paper signed by a judge giving law enforcement officers permission to enter a home or make arrests. But did you know that a roommate may legally consent to a search of your belongings?
The best thing to do is to ask through the door if the officers have a warrant. If the answer is no, you do not have to let them in your house or answer any questions. You cannot be punished for not consenting to a search. If the answer is yes, ask for the officers to slip the warrant under the door. Make sure that the warrant is accurate and complete. (Pay close attention to the address line, since it is not unusual for police to accidently show up at the wrong door.)
A warrant means that police can legally search your house, but it does not mean that you have to answer any questions. It would be a good idea to ask the police if you can watch the search. If you can, be sure to take notes of what they did and who was involved.
What if law enforcement officers do not have a search warrant but forcibly come in your house anyway? This is a tricky situation and interfering with the search could get you arrested. The best thing you can do is make it clear that you do not consent to the search and write down the badge numbers of the officers. You should file a complaint to the law enforcement office, and contact your lawyer as soon as possible.
Most of us have probably gotten pulled over by a police officer sometime in our life, yet many people are confused as to what level of authority traffic officers hold. You are legally required to show your license and registration. Police officers can ask you more questions, but you are not obligated to answer any of them.
You do not have to consent to any searches. Police can only search your car if you give them consent or they have reasonable cause—facts to support a reasonable belief that criminal activity is likely taking place. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law.
If you’re stopped on the street, would you know what to do?
You do not have to talk to a police officer, and you cannot be punished for refusing to answer questions. If you ask, “Am I free to go?” and the officer says yes, you may leave the scene.
Whether you are required or not to show ID depends on state law. You do not have to consent to any searches. The police may only pat you down if they have reasonable suspicion that you are guilty of a crime
Knowing and invoking your rights to a government authority does not mean that you are a criminal with anything to hide. These rights restrain government and ensure a free society.With the government growing bigger every day, knowing our rights is more important than ever- and they will not defend themselves. Our job as American citizens is to actively defend the everyday incremental assaults on our constitutional rights, even if authorities insist “there is nothing to fear if there’s nothing to hide.”
Julie Borowski is a Policy Analyst at FreedomWorks, an organization dedicated to lower taxes, less government, and more freedom. Her writings on economic policy have appeared in numerous newspapers and online outlets. She is on the Board of Advisors for the Coalition to Reduce Spending and she launched an independent YouTube channel called TokenLibertarianGirl in June 2011.
She was previously selected to be a Charles G. Koch Summer Fellow with the Institute for Humane Studies where she worked at the Center for Competitive Politics. Most recently, she was a government affairs associate at Americans for Tax Reform.
Julie has volunteered for political candidates in Kentucky and in her home state of Maryland. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Frostburg State University in May 2010 where she studied political science, economics and international studies. She is now located in Washington, D.C.