Even the most innocuous encounter with the police can be nerve wracking and stressful. Fortunately, you have rights the police may not legally violate. This guide is designed to inform you what those rights are and how to communicate with law enforcement in various settings and situations.

You might also want to watch 10 Rules for Dealing with Police and/or Busted: The Citizen’s Guide to Surviving Police Encounters (both also available on YouTube) by Flex Your Rights.

Knowing one’s rights is extremely important. You can educate your peers by holding a screening of either of these films. For information on hosting a Know Your Rights screening click here.

In General…

You have the right to

  • Remain silent.
  • Refuse consent to searches of your person and property.
  • Ask if you are being detained or are free to go.
  • If you’re being detained, assert your right to silence and…
  • Ask to speak with a lawyer.

 

If You’re Stopped on the Street

  • Ask if you’re free to go. If you are, go. Walk, do not run.
  • Say “I do not consent to any searches” should the police attempt to search your belongings.

If the Police Frisk You

Entrapment

Entrapment is where an officer or other law enforcement offical coerces you to engage in an illegal activity you wouldn’t otherwise have done. This is an illegal practice, but if the police can show you did the act  “skillfully”, they can argue that’s because you engage in it regularly, and therefore you weren’t entrapped. A good way to avoid being entrapped is avoiding people you don’t or barely know who are enticing you to commit criminal acts.

What if I’m at school?

  • If you’re at a public school  (high school, ect.), your protections against searches and seizures of your body and belongings are severely curtailed. A school offical does not need a search warrant or probable cause to search your things. Since a locker is school property, they may search it at will.
  • Unfortunately, schools may use random drug tests as well.

If You’re Stopped in Your Car

  • Pull off to the side of the road in a calm, controlled fashion
  • Have your license and registration, as well as other papers you believe the officer may request ready.
  • Roll down the window enough to pass the papers out, and possibly converse if you choose, but no further.
  • You may assert your right to silence.
  • Passengers should assert their right to silence and refuse searches as well.
  • If the officer asks you to step out of the car, comply. But…
  • Remove the keys from the ignition
  • close and lock the doors behind you.
  • Do not consent to searches.
  • However, the officer may search your car if he or she has probable cause of some criminal ongoing.  (Seeing a baggie on a seat would qualify, for example)

If You’re Stopped at a DUI or Drug Checkpoint

  • Don’t surrender your rights by consenting to a search.  
  • Many states require that you submit to chemical testing (breathalyzer, ect) as a condition of your having a vaild driver’s license. If you refuse, you may be subject to the same or harsher penalties than if you had tested positive for whatever it is.
  • Note that DRUG CHECKPOINTS ARE A TRAP! If you see a sign that says “drug checkpoint ahead,” do not pull over, turn around, or toss anything out the window, because doing so gives police probable cause to search you. What you should do is this:
    • Continue driving
    • Make sure that no contraband materials are in plain sight. If the police see drugs or paraphernalia, they have probable cause to search your vehicle.
    • Be sure that your vehicle does not smell like illegal drugs. If your car reeks of marijuana when you open the window, the police then have probable cause to search your vehicle.
    • If a checkpoint actually exists ahead (and the sign is not just a decoy to get you to pull over), the police are permitted to stop you briefly, but cannot conduct a search without probable cause. Your rights are the same as at a DUI checkpoint.

What if the officer threatens to call a K9 unit?

  • You still have the same rights as stated above and may refuse a canine sniff search.
  • Police do not need reasonable suspicion to use a canine search during a legitimate traffic stop.
  • Ask if you’re free to go, and if not, you’re being detained. You may be detained as long as it takes to conduct the search.

What if I’m at home?

  • You cannot be arrested for ‘disorderly conduct’ in your own home without your consent.
  • If an officer knocks on your door and desires to talk to you, step outside and close the door behind you.
  • If they ask to search your house, do not give your consent. You may know what you have in your house, but may not know what others have as well. 
  • Even if the officer has probable cause, he or she needs a search warrant to enter your home without your consent.
  • However, other people who live there may give consent for the house to be seached.

What if I’m at my dorm?

  • Unfortunately, this is totally dependent on what your college/university’s policies are. You’re generally bound and limited to the conditions stated in the contract you signed for the dorm room/apartment/ect. However, it usually doesn’t hurt to politely refuse consent to searches.

What if they say they have a search warrant?

  • Politely ask to see the warrant
  • If they present you with the warrant, check it for the address, date, and judge’s signature.

What if I’m arrested?

  • Police are not required to tell you why you’re being arrested during the process of arresting you.
  • Police aren’t required to read you your miranda rights either. They only have to do so if you’re in custody and they want to ask you about a crime. So it’s best to know ’em.
  • Assert your right to remain silent.
  • Ask for a lawyer.
  • You must be brought before a judge and formally charged within 72 hours of your arrest.

If I’m innocent, shouldn’t I talk to the police?

  • NO. An explanation why from a lawyer’s persective here and the police’s perspective here.

What should I do if the police unreasonably brutalize me?