Know Your Rights: When the FBI Knocks

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Despite the FBI’s grotesque history of racial profiling and targeting, harassing, and criminalizing the civil rights movement, the agency is charged with upholding civil rights laws. The FBI is now investigating the car attack against anti-racist activists in Charlottesville, VA, and has been reaching out to counterprotesters who were in Cville to conduct interviews.

These activists are rightly concerned. An interview with the FBI or any law enforcement is always a risky business. In this situation especially, one cannot assume that what you say won’t be held against you, or someone else. You can never know what information agents have, or what their true agenda is. For example, some activists are being led to believe that the interviews are not optional. They are.

The DC chapter of the National Lawyers Guild is advising activists to exercise caution, to fully understand their rights, and to refuse to speak with agents without a lawyer present.


What to do if the FBI or Police

Contact You for Questioning

           Following the white supremacist attack against counterdemonstrators in Charlottesville on August 12, 2017, the FBI or other law enforcement officers have reportedly sought to question people who may have witnessed the attack or the events leading up to it.  It is very important to understand what your rights are and what consequences can result from talking to the FBI, especially in light of the ongoing criminal prosecutions in Washington, DC over demonstrations that took place on Trump’s Inauguration.  You have a right to not speak with law enforcement, and if you choose to speak with law enforcement, you have a right to obtain legal advice before doing so.  More specifically:

(1)     You are NOT REQUIRED to answer any questions from law enforcement, and you have the right to consult with an attorney.  You always have the right to remain silent and not talk to police or the FBI if you do not want to.  You should write down the name, agency, and phone number of the person who calls or visits you.  Even if you have already answered some questions, you can always stop the interview and speak to a lawyer.

(2)     If the FBI or police asks to speak with you, you can always tell them you want to consult with an attorney first.  Asking to speak with your attorney does not mean you are refusing to cooperate.  Your attorney can respond on your behalf to set up an interview with law enforcement if you so choose.

(3)     ANY information you give to an officer, with or without an attorney present, can be used against you or someone else in a criminal or civil proceeding, even if the information seems harmless at the time you convey it.  Lying to a federal officer is a crime.  Remaining silent is NOT a crime.

(4)     You are NOT required to allow the FBI or police into your home without a warrant.  If an officer wants to enter your home, ask to see the warrant.  If the officer does not have one, you do not need to let them in.  If the officer ignores you, tell them they do not have permission to enter, but do not physically obstruct the officer’s actions.

(5)     If the officer says they have a warrant for your arrest, you have a right to see the warrant.  You must go with the officer, but you are not required to speak or answer questions until you consult an attorney.

(6)     If you are detained, you should ask for an attorney and remain silent.

DC Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild

Demonstration Support Committee