Dealing with police in any situation:
This section is dedicated to helping a potential client and citizens through an encounter with a law enforcement agent on any level. If you are reading this, there is a good chance you have already had an opportunity to deal with law enforcement in some capacity or you may have been directed here by a friend who found this while researching a criminal defense attorney. If you think this page is helpful then share the information with your friends and family. Everyone should know their rights and have a plan when dealing with law enforcement
Laws will be different from county to county and state to state, this guide is meant to be a very a global and general view. This section may be out of date by the time you read it or not applicable to your area. This should not be taken as legal advice and you should consult a criminal law attorney in your area if you would like detailed advice. Not withstanding anything else mentioned here, do not resist arrest, disobey an order by a uniformed officer or give the officer anymore reason to charge you with a crime. Keep calm and collected and this experience will pass more smoothly.
- Be polite. The overwhelming majority of police officers are good, honest people just doing their job. Be polite and respectful, and know that yes sir, no sir, please and thank you will go a long way. Don’t talk back, don’t get confrontational, and don’t be rude. If an officer is considering giving you a ticket (or worse), arguing and yelling isn’t going to change his mind. Police spend an inordinate amount of time dealing with questionable individuals who treat them with utter disdain- don’t be one of those people. Remember you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.
- Don’t give the officer a reason to be nervous. Every police officer has a gun and knows how to use it. Every police officer has also been trained to react quickly and decisively to threatening situations, and to be constantly on the lookout for potential threats. Don’t be jumpy, don’t make unexpected movements, and keep your hands in plain view. Wait until they ask for your paperwork before reaching in the glove box and let the officer know what you are doing before you move. If it’s night time you should turn on your interior light. A relaxed and comfortable police officer is much less likely to reach for his taser.
- Don’t think you’re smarter than the police officer. You might be smarter, you might not, but keep in mind that it is the officer’s job to pick up on lies and I can assure you that an officer can sniff out dishonesty better than you can lie. Don’t try to be cute or a funny- it’s not going to get you anywhere, or at least not anywhere that you actually want to go.
- Know when to shut up. So if you can’t outsmart a cop, what can you do? Shut up, that’s what. No matter what a police officer tells you, no matter what promises are made or how much pressure is puts on you, no matter how innocent you are, you are under absolutely no obligation whatsoever to talk to an officer, to make any sort of statement, or to answer any question. Police are very skilled at extracting the information they want, and even an innocuous line of questioning could be much more serious than you realize. Police write down everything you say (sometimes hours or even days later) and what is in the police report is what the DA will use in determining what crimes to charge you with. When you do talk there is a chance that it won’t be recorded accurately and it is nearly impossible to suppress a statement you made voluntarily. If you think you might be in trouble, shut your mouth, call your lawyer, and don’t say a single word until he or she arrives. Even if the officer has not read you your Miranda rights, and if you make a statement it could be used against you, and if you talk it is your attorney’s job to get that statement suppressed. There are some questions the officer can ask you in almost any situation and it can be a crime to not answer them, such as when the officer asks for proof of insurance or identification. The 5th amendment provides you the right to remain silent; it is most often your best friend.
- Know your rights. While it’s important to be reasonably polite when dealing with the police, it’s equally important to know your rights. That includes the right to keep quiet, the right to refuse a request to search your belongings, your car or your house, and the right to walk away if you’re not being detained. When I offer this type of advice, I often get the folksy response “If you didn’t do anything wrong, you’ve got nothing to worry about.” That’s just not true- you’ve got plenty to worry about, as miscarriages of justice do happen. You’ve also got the right to take a principled stand against unwarranted state intrusions on the lives of its citizens. Understand your rights and be willing to exercise them. If an officer asks you to search you or your car simply reply, “I do not consent to searches”. The officer may tell you that the K-9 unit is on the way and they will find what ever you are hiding. If they do then ask them if you are free to go. The officer needs a reason to detain you and once you ask if you can leave it becomes clear you are not doing so voluntary. Remember during this encounter you should be polite, respectful and by no means smug or confrontational.
- Do not resist with force. If an officer is going to conduct an illegal search, detention, or arrest fighting back will only make things worse and will not prevent the illegal action. It is possible that the officer has information that you do not know about and your resistance will only add charges. If the officer is in fact conducting an illegal search, detention, or arrest this will come out in court later and not using force will improve your chances of a favorable outcome including the possibility of a winning a civil action against the officer. Use your words and not your actions. Say something like “I am not resisting but I do not consent to this search.” If you feel you are being detained without cause then you can ask the officer to bring his supervisor.
- Ask for an attorney. Often times you will not be read Miranda rights when dealing with the police. It’s not enough to want an attorney, you must actually ask for one. Depending on what stage of the investigation you are in, asking for an attorney could trigger certain rights and prevent any responses to questions they ask from being admissible. Do not waiver when the officer puts pressure on you. If an officer asks, “Are you sure you need an attorney? You wouldn’t need a lawyer unless you did something wrong.” Or “We can’t get you an attorney until tomorrow. Talk to us now and we might get you out of here tonight.” Do not be fooled. Assert your right to an attorney, even if you have done nothing wrong. What you tell the police could cause you a lot of problems even if you didn’t break any laws.
- You don’t need to let them in without a warrant. Without the presence of an emergency the police do not have a right to enter your home or perform a search. Police can always enter your home if you give them permission. This is called a consensual search or place you under arrest. They may say they are doing a safety or welfare check in the area or ask you to step outside to talk with them. If you let them in for any reason then anything they find can be used to convict you in the courtroom. If you let them in and decide that you would like them to leave then you can ask them to leave. This is letting them know that you no longer consent to the search and would like them to leave. Unless they have a reason they should leave immediately. Once you step outside you are in public and they may arrest you. Talk to them through your locked door or security gate to find out what they want. Again if they are going to come in with out your permission then do not resist. Remember this phrase, “I do not consent to your entry or the search of my home.” If they do end up finding contraband or an element to a crime your attorney can suppress it at a hearing.
- Don’t give the police a reason to stop you. Short of breaking the law there are plenty ways to get an unpleasant encounter with law enforcement. While you playing your music loud or having a shirt with a large marijuana leaf might not be probable cause to search you, it will put you on the police’s radar as being a potential criminal. You are free to behave however you like. Just remember some behavior will draw the unwanted attention of law enforcement. Do not ever run from the police. You might outrun the unit you are dealing with, but you will not outrun their radio. If you make them chase you I promise you that when they catch you they are not going to be happy.
- Be a good witness. If you feel you have had a run in with the police and feel that it warrants a complaint you should write down everything you can about the encounter as soon as you can. Your memory will start to fade quickly and it is important to get the details. Things like name, badge number, what they look like, where the incident occurred, what happened. Don’t ever ask an officer for their badge number as this will indicate to them that you are about to file a complaint and they might not like that. If anyone else saw the encounter then you should try to get their contact information. Get copies of any pictures or video footage that someone could have taken with a camera phone.
Remember these key phrases. Out of all of this you should remember these few phrases.
- “I don’t consent to searches.”
- “I am not resisting but I do not consent to this search.”
- “I don’t wish to answer any questions.”
- “I would like to speak to my attorney.”
- “Are you detaining me or am I free to go?”
- “I would like to have a supervisor present”