What Are My Rights When Speaking to the Police?
Though no one believes they will ever be arrested nor wants to be stopped by the police, it happens. If and when it does, it is important to know your rights and what to say or what not to say when a police officer approaches you.
First, always remain calm and cooperate – don’t try to argue, don’t run away. When an officer asks for identification, such as your name or date of birth, respond honestly. After the officer has asked her administrative questions, ask: “Am I free to go?” If the officer says “yes”, you are safe to leave. If not, ask the officer why you are being detained. Regardless of the officer’s response, you have a right to refuse consent to any search, decline to answer questions, and ask to speak with an attorney.
However, in some cases, an officer can conduct a search, regardless of consent or a search warrant, with probable cause. Some examples may include:
- If you make a quick or unpredictable movement
- This includes reaching into your pockets, glove compartments, or any place else the officer has not instructed you to do so
- If you attempt to run away and/or flee the scene
- If an officer sees drug paraphernalia
- If an officer smells the presence of drugs
- If an officer smells the presence of alcohol and you were driving
When an officer has probable cause to believe you committed a felony, sees you commit a misdemeanor, or if there is a warrant out for your arrest, she has reason to justify an arrest. If any of the above occurs, do not resist the arrest.
Even if you feel that the officer’s actions are illegal, now is not the time to argue with the police. They are going to do what they are going to do and arguing, resisting, or fighting with them will only make the situation worse and could result in charges that might stick even if the original actions by the police were illegal. Fighting about an illegal arrest should only be done in court, with an attorney.
If you are arrested and the police come to you and want to ask you questions, you should not talk with the police and you should politely tell them that you’ve been advised by an attorney not to talk to the police and that you want to have an attorney.
Whether you merely have some sort of contact with the police or if you are arrested, after the incident, an officer will write a police report summarizing all of the events leading up to the arrest. These reports are detailed with information the officer thinks relevant. However, you do not necessarily have a right to see the report, but your lawyer does.
So remember: stay calm, cooperate, do not admit nor explain innocence or guilt, and be sure to contact an attorney after the fact.