Know your Rights! What to do if you are stopped by the Police.

All of us have had some form of contact or encounter with police: it may have been a traffic stop, an arrest, a 911 call to report a crime or a call for assistance. The experience may have been pleasant or it may have been disastrous. Many times, we personally determine whether it turns out to be good, bad or ugly.

You may or may not agree with me when I tell you from 40 plus years of experience that most police officers follow the law; are there to protect you and try to do so. They serve honorably and deserve respect for their devotion to an often difficult and dangerous job.

There are, however, that 10% who should never have been hired “to serve and protect”. They are the ones who believe the end justifies the means, or that they can do what they want whenever they want – regardless of whether it is legal or not. They are the ones who violate individual’s rights day in and day out. Many of us, unfortunately, have encountered this group of “terrorists”. You need only say the wrong thing, appear belligerent, or refuse to co-operate and you could find yourself being physically assaulted and then arrested. You could be charged with resisting arrest and aggravated assault simply for trying to protect yourself.

It is, therefore, very important that you know and understand your rights and the rules of engagement.

Rule 1: Never talk to police for any reason you didn’t call them for

The “first commandment” in dealing with police you did not call is: Never talk to police for any reason you didn’t call them for. Rarely, if ever, can a person talk themselves out of a problem. The officer is not asking you questions to help you out. They are looking for some sign or evidence of criminal activity so they can arrest you. Police are trained to scrutinize your manner of speech, your reaction to questions asked, your body language and to try to find incriminating and impeachment evidence. Remember: “Silence Is Golden”.

Rule 2: Ask to call your lawyer

If you cannot avoid the police officer and they continue to ask you questions, always ask to call your lawyer. Politely assure them that if your lawyer says is it OK,  then you will answer their questions. (Your lawyer will rarely, if ever, advise you to answer their questions.) They might try to coerce or cajole you into talking, and may even lie to get you to talk. There are numerous tactics police are trained to use to elicit a confession. These will be discussed in detail in a later blog. When this happens, politely and calmly tell the officer, “I have done nothing illegal, and want to call my lawyer before answering any questions”.

Rule 3: Never agree to allow a search of yourself, your car, your personal property or your home

If confronted with a situation where the officer seeks permission to search you, your vehicle or your home, you should be aware that constitutionally you have an absolute right to refuse, assuming the officer does not have a search warrant. It would be wise to politely  tell the police officer that you would like to call your lawyer and if he tells you to allow the search , you will do so. Otherwise, the officer needs to get a search warrant. If you don’t have a lawyer you can call, then politely refuse to allow a search. Should the officer threaten to get a warrant, or to call in the canine dogs or tell you that “you will be here all night”, be patient, tell them to do what they need to do and wait.  Again, these are commonly used tricks to get you to waive your constitutional right. If you consent to the search, you will probably live to regret this decision.

 Rule 4: Never lose your temper.

Bad decisions generally result from lost tempers or “emotional decisions”. Always  try to “keep your cool” and be polite no matter how intimidating or upset the officer might get. Being polite is very unnerving to that 10% we talked about; especially, if they are trying to unsettle you and force you to make a mistake.

If you lose your temper, I can guarantee you, you will either do something very physically stupid or say something  incriminating. Never attempt to antagonize the officer or criticize what they are doing – you have nothing to gain by arguing with the police. Anything you say or do will be used against you.

Should you be arrested for something you did not do and honestly believe you are innocent, NEVER resist arrest. The law does not provide a defense for resisting an illegal or unwarranted arrest. Resisting arrest will only get you  a trip to the hospital, new charges and a potentially higher jail/prison sentence.

Should you be stopped by police while in public

Be polite and respectful even though the officer may not be. Being “macho” or getting upset might make you feel better but I can guarantee you, you will later regret it. Always remain calm and in control of your words, body language and emotions. Remember, anger has a way of causing us to do, or say, the wrong thing.

Keep your hands where the police can see them. You don’t want to become a statistic for a police shooting. If you do have a weapon, do not try to remove your weapon to show or give to the officer. Raise your hands to head level, and calmly notify the officer you have a weapon. Allow them to remove the weapon until the confrontation is over with.

Do not run, even if you know you have an outstanding warrant. Far more often than not, you will be caught and you risk having an angry police officer taser you, beat you to a pulp or even shoot you.   Insult will then be added to your injury when you are charged with aggravated assault on a police officer and resisting arrest.

Remember, touching or spitting at or on a police officer can buy you an Aggravated Assault charge, a beating and a trip to the “Arpaio” Hilton.

If you feel your rights have been violated

Write down everything you remember as soon as possible and try to locate witnesses so you can provide them to your lawyer. If you are injured, have photographs taken of the injuries as soon as possible but make sure you seek medical attention first and then contact your lawyer. Your lawyer can file a written complaint with the appropriate police department’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board. If you cannot afford to retain a lawyer to do so, contact us and we will help/direct you on what you need to do.

And remember, the best way to avoid the police is to stay out of trouble.


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