If I am stopped or detained by the police, do I have to talk to them or let them search me?
UPDATED: December 13, 2012
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Other than supplying a lawful name, address and date of birth, a minor does not have to say anything further to the police. This is however, a sensitive matter and if a juvenile has done nothing wrong and is merely being asked a simple question by a police officer, not reacting may insinuate guilt of something.
Whether it is during a traffic stop, at school, or in a minor’s home, there are different rules governing the rights of a minor to refuse communication, or decline consent to search. The laws governing juvenile rights when being approached by the police vary from state to state, but there are some general rules that will apply to most situations.
While in a Car
If a minor is of age to drive and they are pulled over, they should answer basic questions asked by the police officer and provide license and registration as requested. In regards to searching a minor’s car, the law is the same as with adults - the specific facts of the situation will have to be weighed. If the officer finds probable cause to search areas he or she cannot plainly see, they can legally do so. For example, if a police officer sees in plain view a beer can, they may ask the juvenile to step out of the car for a sobriety test and search the rest of the vehicle for other incriminating evidence. If a minor does not give consent to search the car and there is no probable cause, the officer may be out of bounds to search the car without a warrant. In this case, they may attempt to get a warrant to search the car and depending on the facts of the situation, they may or may not be granted one.
If law enforcement comes to a minor’s school and asks to speak with the student, it will be up to the teachers and/or principal to determine whether to allow the police to pull the student out of class or search their locker. The school will determine if there is a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. A locker is generally not considered personal property belonging to the student, but is school property so police do not need students’ permission, only the school’s to search lockers. Access without a student’s permission is generally only granted in special circumstances.
The rules on searching students are not as strict as those for the search of an adult. A school administrator or police officer needs only to suspect that a student may be partaking in illegal activities on school premises in order to search their person or locker. No warrant is necessary. In addition, because the lockers are school property, school officials and teachers can also search them at random and without warning. Even when a warrant is needed, it would be very easy for a police officer to obtain one if it meant investigated a potential harm to other students by one student.
Schools can also legally take random drug tests from students. This is typically done when placing students in athletics or extra curricular activities. A student can refuse to take the test but this may be grounds for refusal to admit that student to a team or group.
In general, the laws that apply to adults also apply to minors when it comes to searches or arrest rights. If approached by a police officer, anyone, including a juvenile, has the right to remain silent; it is especially recommended that a child remain silent until a parent or trusted guardian is present. But this is generally only advised if there is concern that a crime was committed and fault is still to be determined. Police will use anything a suspect or witness says to further an investigation. If no crime was committed and an officer is merely inquiring about a situation, there is no need to abstain from answering questions.
If a police officer approaches a minor in public and begins to ask questions about a crime, it is best to ask the officer if it is okay to leave. If the officer says “yes,” the minor is free to go. If the officer is arresting the minor, he or she will make this clear and in this case, will be required to read the minor his or her rights. If this is the case, always say, “I want to talk to my lawyer.” At this stage, police are required to let the minor contact a lawyer or provide one.
If a minor is taken into custody, it is required by law that a parent consent to or be present during a conversation with the police.