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What to say when interacting with the police

These days, the ways that police officers and the public interact are a huge issue. On a personal level, when a police officer stops you, you want to do what you can to protect your rights without making the situation tenser than it has to be. This can be a delicate balancing act, but it can help if you understand your rights ahead of time.

Your rights as an American

  • You have the right to remain silent. You don’t have to answer any questions from the police, even before you are arrested.
  • Unless the police have a search warrant, in most cases, you do not have to consent to a search of your home, car or your person.
  • If you are not under arrest, you have the right to leave the scene calmly.
  • If you are arrested, you have the right to have a defense attorney representing you.

With these rights in mind, here is how to protect yourself without provoking the officer into arresting you with little, if any, cause.

  • Politely express your rights. Say things like, “I would like to remain silent,” and “I do not consent to a search.”
  • Ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says you are, leave immediately, but do not run.
  • Don’t try to resist whatever the police do to you. Instead, keep alert and take note of everything that happens. As soon as you get a chance, write down your experiences so you can share them with your defense attorney. Include things like the arresting officer’s badge number and their car number, if possible.
  • Above all, remain calm and in control.

This advice may reduce your chances of getting wrongfully arrested, but it cannot guarantee that it won’t happen. By being careful and observant, you can help your lawyer expose the police’s misconduct and potentially get some or all of the evidence against you thrown out of court.