Interactions with law enforcement officers can be frightening and stressful. People often aren’t thinking clearly when they’re stopped by police. It’s essential to remember that you have rights as well as responsibilities. This is true whether you’re a U.S. citizen or not. If you understand those rights and responsibilities, you can keep your interaction from escalating to something more serious and adding to your potential legal problems.
Most people know their basic rights, commonly referred to as their Miranda rights, just from having watched television. One of these is “the right to remain silent.” However, if you exert that right, tell the officer that’s what you’re doing. Whatever you do, don’t lie.
If you’re stopped in your vehicle, you’re required to provide your license, vehicle registration and insurance documentation. Generally, you can refuse to consent to a search of yourself, your belongings and your vehicle. However, if officers believe there’s evidence of a crime in your car they may have the right to a search it without a warrant. If they believe you have a weapon on you, they have the right to do a “pat down.”
It’s also crucial that you remain courteous and calm throughout the encounter, no matter how unfair you may believe the situation is. Further, don’t try to flee, obstruct the officers or interfere with their actions. Don’t give officers any reason to believe you may be a danger to them. Make sure they can see your hands at all times.
Officers must tell you if you’re under arrest and, if so, why. If you’re not, ask if you can leave. If you’re free to go, walk or drive away slowly, quietly and calmly. This isn’t the time to get in the last word or threaten them with a complaint. If you believe your rights were violated, you can take action after the encounter.
If you’re placed under arrest, you have the right to call an attorney. It’s best to do that as soon as possible. Let your attorney take the lead. They can protect your rights and help prevent you from doing anything to incriminate yourself. If you believe that your rights were violated during the encounter and/or the arrest, let your attorney know so that they can take the appropriate action.