Know Your Rights when speaking to the Police

Rabin Nabizadeh
November 13, 2018

Nobody believes they’ll ever get arrested. Most don’t even believe a police officer will ever pull them over. It happens, though, which is why you must be prepared even if, fingers crossed, it never happens to you.

Do you know your rights, what to say, and what not to say when a police officer approaches you? Check out what to do if this happens to you.

What to Do if a Police Officer Approaches You

Keep the following in mind:

Stay calm and stay put

Remember to SC and SP, Stay Calm and Stay Put. Don’t start arguing with the officer. Don’t say anything at all. Don’t run. Don’t walk away. Both can lead to disaster.

You can say this after the officer has spoken

You can ask the following question after the officer has spoken: “Am I free to go?”

If the officer says “yes”, feel safe to leave. If the officer says, “no”, ask the officer, “Why am I being detained?”

No matter the officer’s answer to the question, “Am I free to go?”, you should do the following:

  • Refuse to consent to any search
  • Decline to answer any questions
  • Always ask to speak to a lawyer

In some cases, a police officer can search your home, car, or person even if you refuse consent.

Police officers can only search you without your consent or without a warrant if they have probable cause. Some examples of probable cause include:

  • You make an erratic or quick movement
  • You attempt to flee by running away
  • You behave strangely
  • Officers hear a gunshot from an unseen area of a home
  • You weren’t wearing a seatbelt when the officers pulled you over
  • Officers see drug paraphernalia
  • Officers smell drugs or an abundance of air freshener, which implies you’re hiding the smell of drugs

Police have 3 reasons to justify arresting you

1) The officers have probable cause that you committed a felony

2) The officers see you commit a misdemeanor

3) The officers discover that there’s a warrant out for your arrest

If an officer insists on arresting you, don’t resist the arrest. Resisting arrest can be either a misdemeanor or a felony. Even if you did nothing to cause the officer to arrest you, you just did by resisting arrest.

Also, never, ever, reach into your pockets, glove compartments, or anywhere else without a police officer instructing you to do so. The officer might believe you’re looking for a weapon.

You should know that the arresting officers will write a report summarizing all the events leading up to the arrest. The report should be detailed and will include any witnesses’ names, citations, and any other information the arresting officer deems relevant.

Understand, you don’t have a right to see the report. Your lawyer does.

Understand the Miranda Warning

We’ve all heard about the Miranda Warning. But, do we understand it?

  • After police officers arrest you, they must read your Miranda Warning. If they question you without having read your Miranda Warning, they can’t use anything you say as direct evidence against you at a trial.
  • Officers must provide your Miranda Warning no matter if the interrogation occurs at the scene of a potential crime, in an interrogation room, in jail, or anywhere.

During the Miranda Warning, the officer will tell you that you have the right to remain silent. Exercise this right. You mustn’t answer any questions officers ask unless the question is for your name, height, weight, and whether you’ve been incarcerated.

You should remain silent unless you ask the officer to make a phone call, speak to a lawyer, or speak to your parents if you’re a minor. It’s a myth that you’re only allowed a single phone call. If you must make more than one phone call, let the authorities know this.

Know that what you say can be used against you

Don’t explain your innocence or your mistake, make some sort of formal statement, or tell others what happened besides your lawyer. Doing any of those things can lead to trouble for you. Also, remember that when in jail, whatever you say to anyone other than your lawyer can be used against you.

You always have the right to an attorney

If you don’t have an attorney, ask the officers to provide an attorney for you. Before you can get a public defender to serve as your attorney, you might have to prove that you’re not financially able to hire your own attorney. Don’t lie about your financial situation. It’s a crime to do so.

Finally, remember that while speaking with police officers, you have the right to end the interview at any point.

Nobody expects to be arrested. If you’re ever in a situation, it’s good to know what to do and what not to do if an officer approaches you. Know your rights while police officers question you, if you’re arrested, and after you arrive to jail.

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