Written by Jasmine
General encounters with the police can be stress inducing and, often times, just down right scary. Especially with the increases in media coverage of cop-related fatalities. Do you know your basic rights? If not stay tuned and take notes, because I’m about to school you on how to “Flex Your Rights” like a BOSS!
Did the police approach you in public? So, you’re walking down the street minding your own business, and the police decide to stop and question you.
- You have the right to remain silent!
- You don’t have to answer questions about where you are traveling to or from, what you are doing or where you live. If you choose to exercise your right to silence make sure to say it aloud.
- You have to right to decline a search of yourself or your belongings. Again, if you choose to exercise this right, be sure to verbalize, “I do not consent to any searches.” (Also, know that police may pat down your clothing if they suspect you have a weapon.)
- You do not have to answer questions about where you were born, whether you are a U.S. citizen, or how you entered the country. (These rules differ at international borders and airports as well as for individuals on certain nonimmigrant visas, like tourists and business travelers.)
Where you pulled over? Don’t panic! More than likely this is just a routine traffic stop, you may even have a tail light out that you didn’t know about. Whatever the reason, remember to remain calm and pull over as safely and quickly as possible.
- Turn off the car, turn on internal lights and keep your hands visible (either on the steering wheel, dashboard, or the seat in front of you).
- Remember, both the driver and all passengers have the right to remain silent.
- If you are a passenger, you may ask, “Am I being detained, or am I free to go?” -If you are allowed to leave, do so quickly and silently.
- “I don’t have anything to hide, but I do not consent to searches.” -Probable cause is required for a member of law enforcement to search your car without a warrant. Officers are legally allowed to lie however, so don’t let them trick you into consenting to a search by telling you they will dismiss your ticket if you do so… they won’t.
- If you are given a ticket at the end of the traffic stop, take it calmly and dispute it later in court. DO NOT try to fight the ticket with the officer, this will only escalate the situation and could possibly lead to additional and/or more serious charges.
Did the police come to your home? Well here’s the good news, unless they have a warrant you don’t have to let them in! Furthermore, if an officer doesn’t have a search or arrest warrant you don’t even have to open your door!
- Have the officer(s) show identification.
- You do not have to let them in unless they show you a warrant signed by a judicial officer that lists your address as a place to be searched or that has your name on it as the subject of an arrest warrant.
- If they do have a search warrant, it doesn’t just give them free reign to be all up and through your house! Yes a search warrant allows police to enter the address listed on the warrant, but they can only search the areas and for the items that are listed. Be sure to read the warrant carefully!
- You have the right to remain silent! Even if officers proceed with a search you do not have to answer any of their questions or speak to them at all while they are in your home.
- Stand silently and observe what they do, where they go, what they take and write down everything you observed as soon as you can.
- If you are a guest inside the house and end up answering the door, you should make clear to the police that you are a guest and do not have the authority to let them inside without the homeowner’s permission.
Were you arrested? Okay, so you’ve done all you can to avoid the arrest, but it still happens. The best thing to do at this point is to remain calm so the situation doesn’t escalate. Even if you believe the arrest was unfair don’t resist, remember:
- YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT! Even if the police question you, you don’t have to answer anything!
- You have the right to a court appointed attorney if you cannot afford one on your own. Just remember the magic words, “I wish to remain silent and will not answer any questions without an attorney present.”
- You have the right to make one local phone call however, be mindful that your conversation may not be private. While police cannot listen in on conversations with your attorney, they can and often times will listen in on any local phone calls that you make.
Did the police violate your rights? So, sadly, this is also a common occurrence. If you happen to be in a situation where you feel the police violated your rights, take the following steps:
- Write down EVERYTHING you can remember. Write down things like officers’ badge and patrol car numbers and the agency they work for as well as contact information from any potential witnesses.
- Make sure to get treated for any injuries you may have sustained and document with pictures.
- ALWAYS file a written complaint with the police agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board.