Your Rights in a Police Encounter

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Know Your Rights in Police Encounters


Overview of your rights:

  • First and foremost you have the right to remain silent. The Police are not your friends during a Police Encounter that you did not initiate. Anything you say will be used against you, including any incriminating statements, or other statements which may be construed as giving consent. It is best to clearly and audibly express that you wish to exercise your right to remain silent in an unequivocal and respectful manner.
  • You have the right to refuse to consent to a search of your body, your car and a home. If police do not have a search warrant, they must obtain consent to search you, your car or your home. Do not fall victim to Verbal Judo. Many police are trained in what is known as verbal judo or tactical communication. They will ask/tell you to do things in a manipulative, confusing, or suggestive manner in order to get you to either consent or incriminate yourself. It is best to clearly and unequivocally state that you do not wish to consent to any searches without a search warrant.
  • If you are not under arrest, you have the right to terminate the police encounter and leave in an orderly manner. If ever you are unsure whether or not you are being detained, you should ask the officer clearly and directly "Am I being detained?" If the answer is no, you are free to go.
  • You have the right to an attorney if you are arrested. It is always best to ask for one immediately. If you cannot afford an attorney, an attorney will be appointed on your behalf.


  • Maintain your composure. Arguing with a police officer, raising your voice, or other hostile gestures will never lead to any good outcome for yourself. Often times, a little courtesy may be all it takes to successfully terminate a Police encounter with your life and dignity intact, and without getting a ticket or citation.
  • Do not interfere with or obstruct police business. If you wish to record a Police encounter involving a third person, do so from a distance far away from the police and third person. E.g., the other side of the street.
  • Do not lie or give false documents to Police Officers. It is better to say nothing than to lie to a police officer. Doing so will usually create reasonable suspicion or probable cause to extend the encounter, or potentially arrest you.
  • If you are arrested, remain calm and do not resist arrest. Remember that nothing good can come from resisting an arrest; even if it is an unlawful arrest. Make a note of everything that was said and occurred, write it down and document any evidence as soon as you are able, and let your lawyer fight for you in court.
  • Remember the details of the encounter. Names, times, badge numbers, what was said, etc.
  • If you feel as though your rights are violated, contact an attorney licensed in your jurisdiction, the ACLU, or Legal Aid. You may even be able to file a citizen's complaint with either your local municipal government or with the Police Department.


Stop the car in a safe place as quickly as possible. You do not need to stop immediately if you feel it is unsafe. If it is dark outside or late in the evening, you may exit the highway and pull into a well-lit parking area, preferably in a public establishment. Turn off the car, turn on the internal light, open the window part way and place your hands on the wheel.

Upon request, show police your driver's license, registration and proof of insurance. Make sure to disclose to the Police Officer where you have to reach, and what you are retrieving before you reach. 

If a Police Officer  asks to look inside your car, you can refuse to consent to the search. But if police have a reasonable suspicion that your car contains evidence of a crime, your car can be searched without your consent. If this occurs, ask the officer what the basis for their suspicion is.

Both drivers and passengers have the right to remain silent. If you are a passenger, you can ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, sit silently or calmly leave. Even if the officer says no, you have the right to remain silent.


If the police or immigration agents come to your home, you do not have to let them in unless they have a search warrant.

Ask the Police Officer to slide the warrant under the door or hold it up to the window so you can see it. A search warrant allows police to enter the address listed on the warrant, but theycan only search the areas, and for the items listed on the warrant. An arrest warrant allows police to enter the home of the person listed on the warrant if they believe the person is inside. If the police have an arrest warrant they may search the vicinity within reach of the person arrested, but they may not search the rest of the home without the consent of a resident. Also, if one person in the resident consents to a search, but another resident does not consent, the police may not search the residence unless the person objecting to the search is arrested and taken away.

Even if officers have a warrant, you have the right to remain silent. If you choose to speak to the officers, step outside and close the door.


Do not resist arrest, even if you believe the arrest is unfair or unlawful.

Exercise your right to remain silent and ask for a lawyer. Do not try and explain or excuse anything to the police. Remember, they are trained to deceive you into incriminating yourself, and anything you say can and will be used against you. If you cannot afford a private attorney, one will be appointed for you at no cost to yourself. Do not say anything to law enforcement unless and until your lawyer tells you to do so.

You have the right to make a local phone call. The police cannot listen if you call a lawyer. Do not discuss any criminal matters or details about your pending case(s) over the jailhouse phone, or to your cell-mates.

Do not sign anything unless directed to do so by your attorney. 


Remember: police misconduct cannot be challenged on the street.Don't physically resist officers or threaten to file a complaint.

Write down everything you remember, including officers' badge and patrol car numbers, which agency the officers were from, and any other details. Get contact information for witnesses. If you are injured, take photographs of your injuries (but seek medical attention first).

File a written complaint with the agency's internal affairs division or civilian complaint board. In most cases, you can file a complaint anonymously if you wish.

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