Civil Rights can refer to a broad array of legal rights. At its most basic, “civil rights” means those rights that the government can not legitimately violate. American courts have also used the phrase to refer to the legal recognition of an individual’s right to gain a remedy. In this context, the issue is not whether a person has the right to sue a public official but whether the applicable law provided the person with a remedy.

The U.S. Government and the State of Maryland have enacted laws that prohibit certain kinds of conduct. These laws often provide victims of this conduct with the right to sue and receive compensation. These Civil Rights are the result of government action. Employment Discrimination, for example, occurs when an employer violates the law in the employment relationship. A person harmed has the civil right to receive compensation from the employer.

Civil Rights and the Constitution

In the American Constitutional system, an individual’s rights exist in opposition to governmental power. (As an aside, a judge’s reference to a police officer’s “right” to search an individual demonstrates both an intellectual failure and an apparently improper bias.)

Civil rights, in the context of a search and arrest, refers primarily to Constitutional rights. If you’ve been arrested or charged with a violation of Maryland law, one basic inquiry is whether a police officer violated your Constitutional rights guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, or the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

It is practically impossible to face charges for drunk driving or illegal drug possession without some kind of interaction with one or more police officers. Challenging the Constitutionality of each interaction begins with a basic understanding of how the courts have defined these encounters with the police.

Police “Encounters”

Accosting – The idea of an “accosting” is that a police officer merely strolls up to a pedestrian and asks a few harmless questions. According to the courts that have ruled that a police encounter was merely an “accosting”, the person accosted made a clearly voluntary choice to chat with a police officer. Therefore, there is no police action to analyze.

Stop – A “stop” occurs when a police officer suspects that an individual is in the process of participating in a crime. The classic situation occurred when an officer watched a man walking around a closed store at night. Rather than wait for the crime to proceed, the officer stopped the man to investigate. To stop someone, a police officer must have “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that the person was in the process of violating the law.

Arrest – Everyone is sure that an arrest occurs when a person is handcuffed, but the presence of handcuffs does not always determine an arrest. The determining factors certainly include whether the police handcuffed the person but other factors, such as the number of officers present and the statements and actions of the officers, can classify the encounter as an arrest. To arrest someone, a police officer must have “probable cause” to believe that the person violated the law.

“The Right to Remain Silent”

Folks talk to police. Sometimes they talk because they hope that a police officer will give them a break. Sometimes they talk because they believe that they can explain the appearance of wrongdoing.

Statements made by a defendant are admissible at the defendant’s trial unless three circumstances exist:
First, the defendant was arrested and in police custody. Whether the defendant was handcuffed is not relevant.

Second, the police officer must have initiated the conversation that led to the defendant’s statement.

Third, the police officer failed to inform the defendant of the right to remain silent.