As an undocumented immigrant in New Jersey, you may worry about police pulling you over in a traffic stop. However, other situations could pose the same amount of risk to you with regard to your status and potential legal problems. For instance, a police officer may conduct a terry stop. Chances of this are high if you are witness to a fight or other situation that leads to a criminal investigation.
In a terry stop, a police officer may stop you while you're standing on a sidewalk or walking down the street. He or she may tell you that the purpose of their approach is merely to ask you a few questions. Such words are obviously enough to make someone in your position worry how the next few moments and hours will unfold.
You have rights
If a police officer suspects you of a crime, he or she must tell you why you have been stopped (whether in a vehicle or on foot). Even if an officer of the law says the purpose of stopping you is to seek answers to a few simple questions and see if you know anything about a particular person or situation, you may want to remember the following information:
- Beyond your name, address or other basic identification information, you do not have to answer any questions without legal representation present.
- You may also ask questions of the officer, such as whether you are free to go or if you are under arrest.
- What you want to avoid is negative speech of any kind or trying to leave before the officer gives you permission to do so.
- An officer must have reasonable suspicion against you in order to search your personal belongings or consider you an immediate threat to his or her personal safety or public safety at large.
- You may verbally state that you do not consent to a search.
- You may request immediate assistance from a criminal defense attorney.
If a police officer winds up placing you under arrest, it's generally best to cooperate as much as possible rather than try to flee the scene or resist in some way. That sort of behavior will likely compound your problems. Many times, police officers arrest people who later end up transferred to immigration detention centers if officials call their statuses into question during the booking process.
If this happens to you, try not to panic. It's understandable that you might fear being separated from your family or facing removal proceedings. However, there are often options available that may help you overcome your status-related problems. A New Jersey attorney well versed in U.S. immigration law would be a great to have on hand in such circumstances.