Handling Police Encounters

The police serve a vital function in our society by keeping us safe. Police have a difficult job and deserve our respect, but it is important to understand your rights – and responsibilities – when dealing with the police. 

No one wants to be stopped by the police, but understanding your rights and having some basic respect will ensure your interactions go as smoothly as possible. 

Basic rights during a police encounter

  • The Right to Remain Silent – You should understand everything you say to the police can be used against you. This is why you have the right to remain silent and should absolutely take advantage of it. If you wish to exercise this right, you should clearly say, “I am exercising my right to remain silent.”
  • The Right to Refuse to Consent to a Search – You do not have to consent to a search. That includes a search of your person, car or home. People sometimes believe that they will appear rude or like they are trying to hide something if they refuse to consent to a search, but consenting to a search can affect your rights later in court. If you do not wish to consent to a search, you should clearly say, “I do not consent to this search.” It is important to note, this does not guarantee the police will not still search whatever they like, but if the search is the subject of court proceedings later on, you will have protected your rights. No matter what happens, it is important to remain respectful and not to interfere with or obstruct the police. You can be arrested and charged with a number of offenses for doing so.
  • The Right to an Attorney – If you are placed under arrest, you have the right to an attorney. Be sure to ask for one clearly and immediately. 
  • The Right to Leave – If you are not under arrest, you have the right to leave. Ask the police if you are free to leave. If they say yes, calmly walk away. 

Responsibilities during police encounter

  • Remain calm and be polite – Police are just people after all. If you treat them with respect and behave calmly, you are significantly more likely to be released with a warning or nothing at all. 
  • Do not resist/interfere/obstruct – You can be charged with separate crimes for resisting arrest, interfering with or obstructing police investigations. 
  • Keep your hands visible – Police deal with dangerous people on a regular basis. Do not give them a reason to believe you may be reaching for a weapon or other dangerous instrument.
  • Remember – Badge numbers, patrol car numbers, descriptions of officers. If you are treated inappropriately, you will need to remember exactly who you interacted with.

If Stopped While Driving

  • Stop your vehicle in a safe place – Turn off your vehicle. It will make the police officer more at ease to know you are not a flight risk.
  • Be compliant – Show your driver’s license, registration and insurance card. 
  • If a search is requested – You do NOT have to consent to a search of your person or vehicle. However, if you are placed under arrest, your vehicle will be subject to search.
  • If stopped under suspicion of DUI – You will likely be asked to take a breath test or field sobriety test. If you fail, or refuse, you will be arrested, your license may be suspended and your car may be towed away. For more information about DUI, see our blog post. 

If Police Come to Your Home

  • You still have the right to remain silent – If you choose to speak with the police, it is best to step outside your home and close the door behind you. 
  • If they have a warrant – Police can enter your home if they have a warrant or if there is an emergency, even if you do not give permission. If they have a warrant, ask to see it. Be sure the information on it is accurate, including the address to be searched. 
  • If arrested in your home – Police can search your immediate surrounding area. If there is any evidence of a crime in plain view, they can search that as well. 
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