- The Police are Here to Serve and Protect…But What If They Stop Me!
- Truancy and Loitering
- Juvenile Justice in D.C.
The Police are Here to Serve and Protect…But What If They Stop Me!
Many times while doing their jobs, the police will stop and ask everyday people, including teenagers, questions. The key to dealing with the police is to be polite, respectful, and most importantly, know your rights!
Some Special Rules if You are Stopped in a Car*
- If the police have probable cause to believe you have committed a traffic violation—the police can stop you to ask to see ID, issue a citation or arrest you. If they see anything illegal while they stop you, they may have probable cause to search the car or to arrest you.
- If the police have probable cause to believe that something illegal may be in your car, they can search the entire vehicle, including the trunk or any bags inside.
- If the police believe you are armed and dangerous, they can search you and your car.
- If the police arrest you while you are in your car, they can search you incident to arrest, and they can also search the entire passenger area of your car (but not your trunk).
The Different Kinds of Police Stops
There are several kinds of encounters with the police. The least invasive kind of encounter is called a “contact.” The next level of encounter is called a “Terry stop and frisk.” Finally, the most invasive level of police encounter is an arrest. As a guiding principle, your rights under the Fourth Amendment increase as the level of invasiveness by the police increases. Your rights are also different depending on whether you are stopped while on the street or in a car.
Sometimes, the police just want to ask general questions, like your name, your address, or your age. They might ask to see identification. This kind of interaction with the police is called a “contact,” and it is completely allowed under the law. For example, the police might be talking with you because they believe you are a witness to a crime, and not a suspect.
Terry Stop—Reasonable, Articulable Suspicion You Have Been
Involved in a Crime
Other times, the police want to ask more specific questions—for instance, if they think that you fit the description of someone involved in a crime. This is called a “Terry stop” (the name “Terry” is from a famous Supreme Court case on this issue). An officer can only make this stop if s/he has a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that a crime has been committed and that you have been involved in it. The officer who stops you can’t just think you look suspicious; s/he must be able to point to specific, objective factors showing the basis for her suspicions. Unlike a “contact,” where the officer is just asking general questions, in a “Terry stop,” the officer might ask more direct questions, like where you were at a certain time, where you’re going, or whether you have anything illegal on your person.
Terry Frisk—Reasonable, Articulable Suspicion that You are
Armed and Dangerous
If the police suspect you of something, they might try to do a “Terry frisk,” which is a pat down of your outer clothing, to see if you have a weapon or contraband. In order to do a “Terry frisk,” the police need to have “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that you are “armed and dangerous.” An officer could have reason to believe that you have a weapon, for example, if you fit the description of someone described as carrying a knife. Police can also acquire a reasonable, articulable suspicion you may be armed during a “contact” or “Terry stop.” For example, if an officer approaches young person on the street, and the young person reaches towards his waistband, or towards his ankle, the officer might believe that person is “armed and dangerous.” The important thing to remember about a frisk is that the officer cannot go into your pockets or undergarments unless s/he believes s/he has felt a weapon after patting you down. The officer cannot manipulate, or squeeze your pockets to try to determine what you may or may not be carrying.
If the police have strong, objective reasons to believe that you have committed a crime (“probable cause”), then you can be arrested. Because an arrest is the most intrusive invasion of a person’s privacy, you have the most rights when you are arrested, taken into custody, and questioned.
You Have the Right to Remain Silent...
You should ask for a lawyer right away. Be sure to say, very clearly, “I do not want to answer any questions, and I want a lawyer.” Then do not answer any more questions, until you get a lawyer. Some questions that police ask seem innocent…
Officer: “You should let me search you, unless you have something to hide.”
Person Questioned: “I didn’t do anything. Go ahead and search me.”
Remember, no matter how nice he seems, that person is a police officer, and his job is to protect the community, not to look out for your interests. So remember, you do not have to say anything, or give the officer permission to search you.
Legal Effect of Giving Consent to Search…
If you consent to a police search of your person, car, bags or anything else, you have given up your right to argue that the search was illegal. Giving consent waives your Fourth Amendment rights regarding anything found in that search.
Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You In a Court of
The police will have to keep a record of anything you say, and that record or “statement” can be used against you in court. That’s why it is so important to think though what you are going to say. Once you say something to the police, you
cannot take it back, even if it is not what you meant. If you are nervous, scared, or simply don’t know what to say to the police, it is better to wait and consult with an attorney. You do not ever have to answer police questions or give them information. Another reason why it is important not to say anything is that your attorney has not yet investigated your case.
You Have the Right to an Attorney… If You Cannot Afford an
Attorney, One Can Be Appointed to You…
You can refuse to answer any questions of police officers and wait until you see an attorney. It is important to understand that you may not be able to see that attorney immediately. If you cannot afford an attorney, you will have to go to court and have one appointed. However, regardless of how long it takes for you to see an attorney or have one appointed, you do not have to talk to the police. Your attorney is your advocate (the person on your side defending you and protecting your interests), not the police. Remember, your lawyer should always be with you when you are being questioned.
Police Officer: “We want to help you out. If you tell us about where you were, we will look out for you.”
Police Officer: “If you cooperate with us, I guarantee that you can go home tonight.”
Remember, the prosecutor ultimately decides whether you are charged and what the charge will be, not the police. The judge will determine whether or not you go home if you are charged, not the police.
Do your parents let you stay out all night long, on a school night?
…Probably not, and in D.C., the government has decided that it won’t allow you to stay out all night long either! In D.C. there is a curfew for anyone under 18. D.C. believes the curfew will help keep young people safe, drug-free, and healthy if they are required to be home at night. The curfew hours are:
|Sunday through Thursday||11:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.|
|Friday and Saturday||12:01 a.m. to 6:00 a.m.|
|During July and August||Curfew is always midnight to 6:00 a.m.|
What Does This Mean For You?
Basically, on school nights you need to be home by 11 at night. On weekends, you can be home by midnight. And no matter what day of the week, you can’t go out before 6 a.m. The curfew just means that you can’t be in any public place during curfew hours. Some public places are restaurants, movies, the street, playgrounds, schoolyards, and the metro. You are NOT violating the curfew if you are at someone else’s house during these hours, at your house, or in your yard. Also, you are NOT violating the curfew if you are with your parents, coming straight home from work, at a school function, in the car, or there is some kind of emergency.
What Happens if You Violate the Curfew?
The police can stop and arrest you, take you into custody for the night, and call your parents. You might even have to go to court, where you could be ordered to perform community service! Also, your parents could get in trouble and might have to pay a fine. Be smart, and follow the curfew hours! D.C. Code Ann. §§ 2-1543, 2-1542 (2001).
Truancy and Loitering
To be “truant” means that you are not in school when you should be (and without a legitimate reason for your absence from school). D.C. law requires you to attend school until the age of 16.
To enforce school attendance, D.C. has a “loitering” law that fines businesses that let you “loiter” (or hang out) on their premises during school hours. That is why if you look 16 or under, people may also ask you how old you are. D.C. CODE ANN. § 32-221 (2001), states that employees and owners of business establishments can be fined or imprisoned if they allow minors under the age of 16 to hang around on their property during school hours.
The D.C. Board of Education runs a truancy and dropout prevention program. For details call the Attendance Centers of the D.C. Public Schools at (202) 576-6985.
Did you know you can legally become an “adult” before age 18?
To become “emancipated” means to be released from “the
control, support, and responsibility of a parent or guardian.”11
There are three ways to become “emancipated”—through
marriage, joining the armed forces, or by a judicial
declaration of emancipation.
For example, if you are 16 or over and get married (with parental consent), you may be considered emancipated. If you ask a court to declare you emancipated, a judge looks at whether you have a job, your own place to live, can support yourself, and otherwise are acting like an independent adult.12
Your rights or privileges as an emancipated minor...
Emancipation offers some benefits and rights…For example, you may be able to
- Stay out past the curfew
- Enter into contracts (e.g. sign a lease for your apartment, buy a car, etc.)
- Consent to your own medical care
- Sue someone (and be sued)
- Control your own $$ and earnings
- Own stock, buy your own house, etc.
The decision to become emancipated is very serious and almost always
permanent. Although being emancipated sounds fun and you may feel ready for it, you should think and weigh such a decision very carefully for several reasons.
- Emancipation terminates your parents’ legal responsibilities toward you. This means they do not have to support you economically or let you live at home.
- You will be expected to support yourself (i.e. pay for rent, food, and all your bills). Many emancipated minors find it difficult to continue their high school education and work...and end up dropping out of high school.13
- Emancipation may not deliver some of the most important benefits
you are seeking. Check how others will regard your emancipation before
you get it.
- Driving: For example, parents can be held responsible for the damages and injuries caused in the car accidents of their teens. If you do not have comprehensive insurance that you are paying for, your parents may still have to pay for any accidents, even if you are emancipated.
- Employment: Employers may or may not allow emancipated minors to work longer hours or certain shifts because of their emancipated status. Check with your employer about their policy.
- School: You may still have to go to school until the minimum age; 16 in D.C.
- $$$: Parents who are struggling financially sometimes want their teens to become emancipated so they don’t have to provide support. You may want to help your family, but you should consider the likely impact of emancipation on you very carefully.
- Conflict at Home: Occasionally, you may not get along with your divorced parent’s new partner. Family conflict may cause parents to suggest emancipation to their teens. While continuing to live at home in this situation may be hard, living on your own might be harder.
- Boyfriends/Girlfriends: Other times older boyfriends want their girlfriends to become emancipated because her parents do not let her stay out, or he is worried about being charged with statutory rape (see statutory rape section). Remember, if you subsequently break up, your parents are under no legal obligation to help.
Juvenile Justice in D.C.14
The Family Division of the Superior Court (500 Indiana Ave. NW) deals with all juveniles offenses in the District of Columbia.
Who is a Juvenile?
All persons under 18 on the date of the commission of the alleged offense are
juveniles and will be processed in the juvenile court system, not the adult criminal system. However, there are several exceptions:
- If you are 16 and over when you are charged with murder, rape, robbery while armed, etc. you may be prosecuted as an adult.
- If you are 16 and over and are charged with traffic offenses, you will normally be tried in the Criminal Division.
- You could be transferred to the Criminal Division as young as age 15 if the court finds that you cannot be rehabilitated before you are 21. This is rare, but might happen if you are charged with a felony (e.g. murder, rape, armed robbery). You can also be transferred to the Criminal Division if you are 16 and are a multiple offender.
You or your family should get an attorney or you should use a court appointed attorney. Lawyers are familiar with the rules in juvenile court and you should use their experience. They are on your side and there to represent you.
What are Your Rights as a Juvenile?
As a juvenile, you have most (but not all) of the constitutional rights adults do in criminal cases. You have the right:
- To be given notice of the charges against you
- To an attorney (a court appointed attorney if you cannot afford one)
- To the privilege against self-incrimination (also known as the “Fifth,” this means you do not have to answer any questions that can get you into trouble and you do not have to take the witness stand)
- To a trial, and
- To “confront and cross-examine” witnesses (this means that your lawyer can question any witnesses who may testify against you).
What Happens if You are a “First-Time Offender?”
The government may offer you a “consent decree.” Consent decrees are like contracts in which both you and the government promise certain things to each other. Typically such a consent decree will say that the government will dismiss the charges if you agree to avoid arrest for a period of time (e.g. 6 months), meet weekly with the probation officer assigned to your case, and any additional conditions set by the court. If you do not keep your promises, the government can still charge and try you for the original offense.
What Happens Once You are Detained by an Officer or Arrested for an Offense?
- The initial hearing in Juvenile Court is the “New Referral Hearing” or the “Detention Hearing.” You will plead guilty or not guilty to the charge.
- If you plead not guilty, the judge will decide whether to release you back to your family or detain you while you wait for your trial.
To decide, the judge looks at your school progress, home life, any past record you may have, and the seriousness of the charge. The judge listens to the suggestions of the prosecutor, the social worker assigned to your case, and your attorney who will speak on your behalf. If you are released back to your family, the judge may require you to obey a curfew, go to school regularly and agree to drug testing.
If you are detained, you may go to Oak Hill Youth Center (the maximum security juvenile detention facility in Maryland) awaiting your trial. If the judge thinks there will not be adequate care for you at home, the court can also place you in a designated shelter. You will most likely have to stay here until your trial.
What If You Go To Trial?
- If you are detained at Oak Hill Youth Center, you will have a “status hearing” within one week of your detention to set a date for the trial (30 days later). If you are detained at a youth shelter home, you will have a status hearing in two weeks and a trial within 6 weeks of your detention.
- At the status hearing, the judge checks whether you have been complying with the conditions imposed for your release.
- At trial, if you lose and are found guilty of the offense, the court will set the date for your sentencing, or “disposition.” Again, the judge will be able to decide whether you should be detained or released while you wait for your “disposition.” You will want a lawyer to argue that you should be released back to your family during this time. If you are released your disposition date will be about 6 weeks later. If you are detained, your disposition must be within 15 days.
- While waiting for your disposition, social workers evaluate your situation (home life, school progress, etc.) and make a recommendation of a sentence to the judge. Your lawyer will also make recommendations and can suggest creative alternatives to detention to which the social worker may agree.
- At the disposition, the judge will usually decide whether to recommend probation or commitment. If you are committed, this will be with the Department of Human Services, and you will most likely be sent to a group home, Oak Hill, or one of several juvenile residential treatment facilities all over the country—even as far as Minnesota!
Who May View a Juvenile Case Record?15
Only the respondent (the child), a parent, an assigned attorney, assistant
corporation counsel, and some other professionals, by a special application that has been approved by a judge. Generally, juvenile records are kept confidential. After two years, if you have not committed any additional offense, your case record may be “sealed.” This means that your past history will be treated like it never happened. Police cannot re-open your file and use past offenses against you. You will be the only one that can inspect your records after your case has been sealed.
Important Numbers in the Juvenile Justice System
|Juvenile Cases Attorneys
D.C. Superior Court, Criminal Justice Act (CJA)
Program, C Level, Room C-125.
|Public Defender Service (ask for the duty day attorney)||202-628-1200|
|Motion to Seal Records||202-879-1319|
- Definition extracted from BLACK’S LAW DICTIONARY, (17th Edition).
- See Kuper v. Woodward, 684 A.2d 783, 785-86 (1996); Duley v. Duley, 151 A.2d 255, 258 (1959).
- See e.g., Carol Sanger & Eleanor Willemsen, Minor Changes: Emancipating Children in Modern Times, 25 U.MICH. J.L.REF. 239 (1992).
- Most of the information in this section was obtained either from the Juvenile Law & Practice in the District of Columbia (District of Columbia Bar, 1988), or the Georgetown Law Center Juvenile Justice Clinic Memo from students of the Juvenile Justice Clinic at Georgetown Law Center to incoming students of the Juvenile Justice Clinic.
- This section mainly taken from the D.C. Superior Court web page and Juvenile Law & Practice in the District of Columbia, supra note 14.