Police Encounters:  What are your rights?

1) Traffic Stops

If you are pulled over in a car, the first thing you should do is keep your hands on the steering wheel.  Don't immediately reach into your glove compartment for your license and registration.  Officers want to be able to see your hands for their own safety.  Wait until the officer asks to see your paperwork before retrieving your documents, and ask the officer first if you can reach in your pocket, purse, bag, or glove box to get them.


2) Be Courteous & Non-Confrontational

Be respectful and non-confrontational.  Refer to the police as "Sir," "Ma'am," or "Officer."  Remain calm and quiet while the officer is reviewing your documents.  If the officer writes you a ticket, accept it quietly and never complain.


3) Say No to Search Requests

If a police officer asks your permission to search, the answer is always no.  You are under no obligation to consent. The only reason an officer asks your permission is because he doesn't have enough evidence to search without your consent. If an officer searches you or your property in spite of your objection, your attorney can argue that any evidence found during the search was discovered through an illegal search and should be thrown out of court.

Police officers are not required to inform you of your rights.  If you consent to a search request, you give up one of the most important constitutional rights you have - your Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.


4) Determine If You Can Leave

If you have been detained or arrested you are not free to leave and you should follow an officer’s directions. The general rule is that you don’t have to answer any questions that the police ask you. This rule comes from the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects you from being forced to answer questions or make a statement that may be used against you in court. If you cannot tell if you are allowed to leave when an officer speaks with you, ask the officer, “Am I free to go?” If the officer says “Yes,” leave immediately. If the officer’s answer is unclear, or if he asks you another unrelated question, remember the general rule that you don’t have to answer any questions that the police may ask. Always remain courteous and non-confrontational.


5) Remain Silent and Ask for an Attorney

If you are not free to leave because you are under arrest, do not answer questions without a lawyer representing you present. Anything you say can, and probably will, be used against you. Your right to a lawyer and your right not to answer questions without a lawyer present, come from the Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Regardless of what you are told by an investigating officer, you could lose everything if you give a statement whether you’ve actually done anything wrong or not.


6) Do Not Physically Resist

If the police proceed to detain, search, or arrest you despite your wishes, do not physically resist for any reason.