The Palestine solidarity movement is the object of ongoing scrutiny by US law enforcement officials, including the FBI, and you may be investigated even if you have done nothing illegal. The police targeting of law-abiding political activists has a long history in the US and 9/11 was used as an excuse to expand local, state, and federal law enforcement intelligence sharing, with ominous implications for civil liberties.
This post will share some expert advice on what you should do if you are contacted by law enforcement. We’ll start with “three basic rules” from veteran criminal defense attorney Sam Fields (these rules actually apply to all law enforcement encounters, not just the FBI):
1. Do not talk to the FBI without a lawyer.
2. Do not talk to the FBI without a lawyer.
3. Do not talk to the FBI without a lawyer.
Here are three questions with answers from the American Civil Liberties Union’s Know Your Rights When Encountering Law Enforcement booklet:
Q: Do I have to answer questions asked by law enforcement officers?
A: No. You have the constitutional right to remain silent. In general, you do not have to talk to law enforcement officers (or anyone else), even if you do not feel free to walk away from the officer, you are arrested, or you are in jail. You cannot be punished for refusing to answer a question. It is a good idea to talk to a lawyer before agreeing to answer questions. In general, only a judge can order you to answer questions. (Non-citizens should see Section IV for more information on this topic.)
Q: Are there any exceptions to the general rule that I do not have to answer questions?
A: Yes, there are two limited exceptions. First, in some states, you must provide your name to law enforcement officers if you are stopped and told to identify yourself. But even if you give your name, you are not required to answer other questions. Second, if you are driving and you are pulled over for a traffic violation, the officer can require you to show your license, vehicle registration and proof of insurance (but you do not have to answer questions). (Non-citizens should see Section IV for more information on this topic.)
Q: Can I talk to a lawyer before answering questions?
A: Yes. You have the constitutional right to talk to a lawyer before answering questions, whether or not the police tell you about that right. The lawyer’s job is to protect your rights. Once you say that you want to talk to a lawyer, officers should stop asking you questions. If they continue to ask questions, you still have the right to remain silent. If you do not have a lawyer, you may still tell the officer you want to speak to one before answering questions. If you do have a lawyer, keep his or her business card with you. Show it to the officer, and ask to call your lawyer. Remember to get the name, agency and telephone number of any law enforcement officer who stops or visits you, and give that information to your lawyer.
Here are some important points to consider from attorney Brian Glick’s 1989 book War At Home: Covert Action Against U.S. Activists and What We Can Do About It:
If the FBI Drops By, JUST SAY NO!!
1. You do not have to talk to FBI agents, police, or other investigators. You do not have to talk to them in your house, on the street; if you have been arrested, or even in jail. Only a court or grand jury has legal authority to compel testimony.
2. You don’t have to let the FBI or police into your home or office unless they show you an arrest or search warrant which authorizes them to enter that specific place.
3. If they do present a warrant, you do not have to tell them anything other than your name and address. You do have a right to observe what they do. Make written notes, including the agent’s names, agency, and badge numbers. Try to have other people present as witnesses, and have them make written notes too. (note: when presented with a search warrant make sure you check it and it is the correct warrant for your house, etc.)
4. Anything you say to an FBI agent or other law enforcement officer may be used against you and other people.
5. Giving the FBI or police information may mean that you will have to testify to the same information at a trial or before a grand jury.
6. Lying to an FBI agent or other federal investigator is a crime. (although they can lie to you!).
7. The best advice, if the FBI or other police try to question you or enter your home or office without a warrant, is to JUST SAY NO!! FBI agents have a job to do, and they are highly skilled at it. Attempting to outwit them is very risky. You can never tell how a seemingly harmless bit of information can help them hurt you or someone else.
8. The FBI or police may threaten you with a grand jury subpoena if you don’t give them information. But you may get one anyway, and anything you’ve already told them will be the basis for more detailed questioning under oath. …
9. They may try to threaten or intimidate you by pretending to have information about you: “We know what you have been doing, but if you cooperate it will be alright.” If you are concerned about this, tell them you will talk to them with your lawyer present.
10. If you are nervous about simply refusing to talk, you may find it easier to tell them to contact your lawyer. Once a lawyer is involved, the FBI and police usually pull back since they lose their power to intimidate.
And in case you’re an audio-video learner, here’s a video entitled “Don’t Talk to the Police” and featuring Regent University Law Professor James Duane:
- “You Have the Right to Remain Silent” (National Lawyers Guild, 2011)
- “Bugs, Taps and Infiltrators: What to Do About Political Spying” by Linda Lotz, (National Lawyers Guild Civil Liberties Commitee, 1988)