Frequently Asked Questions
No matter who you are, coming into contact with law enforcement, especially if you are suspected of breaking the law or you have just been arrested, can be an intimidating experience. Whether you like it or not, police officers are the ones in control of the any police-citizen interaction, but it is always important to keep your cool and remember that you have rights as well:
1. Ask calmly: Am I free to go?
If you are approached by police, you can calmly ask “Am I free to go?” This is a way to know if you have been detained or not. If the police officer says you are free to go, you can and should walk away. If you are not free to leave, this means you have been detained on suspicion of committing a crime or because you are under arrest.
2. Remain Calm and Do Not Resist
Even if you disagree with why you have been stopped or arrested, your situation will NOT improve if you are belligerent, argumentative, or physically aggressive with the police, or if you attempt to flee. Not only do you open yourself up to facing additional criminal charges (ie. “resisting without violence” a misdemeanor, or “resisting with violence,” a felony), your physical safety is at risk if the police react believing their safety is threatened, or to get you and the situation under control. The reality is, even if you have been unlawfully stopped, searched, or arrested, this is something that will have to be determined and dealt with in court at a later time.
3. Do Not Consent to a Search
If police do not have a search warrant and are asking for your consent to search, it is most likely because they cannot legally engage in a search without your consent. If the police ask to search you, your personal belongings, your car, your home, etc., you have the right to decline (tip: do so politely, for example, “I respectfully decline to consent to a search.”).
4. Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent
Before or after an arrest, police may ask you to answer some questions, provide a statement, or give your side of the story about an incident. You may feel you have no choice but to comply, or you may feel it is necessary to speak to the police. The truth is, you have the right to refuse to speak to police, and it is in your best interest to refuse to speak. Otherwise, what you say could give the police cause to arrest you if you have not yet been arrested, or if you have been arrested, you could be creating more evidence that can be used against you in court. Always remember that if you are under arrest, nothing you say will cause the police to unarrest you.
You can say any of the following phrases to invoke your right to remain silent: “I do not want to answer any questions without my lawyer present” or simply, “I do not want to: speak/answer questions/give a statement.”
5. Ask For a Lawyer
You have the right to an attorney at any point after you have been detained by the police. After you have been arrested, you should ask to get in contact with a lawyer right away.