Know Your Rights



If you are in an encounter with the police these tips will protect your constitutional rights and may help prevent your arrest or improve your chances if you are arrested.

1) Keep Private Items Out of View
Always keep items that you don’t want others to see out of sight. If something is in plain view, the police do not need a search warrant in order to seize illegal items or any item that is evidence of a crime.

2) Be Courteous & Non-Confrontational
Always be courteous when in an encounter with the police. Refer to the police as “Sir,” “Ma’am,” or “Officer.” You should remain calm and silent, unless responding to a direct question.

The first thing you should do is simply say “Hello.” This should immediately be followed with the question, “Will, you please tell me why I am being stopped?” The officer may not directly answer your question or may respond by asking you to explain why you think you were stopped. Tell the officer you don’t know, do not guess at the officer’s reason. Simple responses such as “I may have been speeding”, or “I know I look suspicious” may be considered an admission of guilt and could be used against you later in court.

If requested, show your identification. Be respectful and non-confrontational. If the officer writes you a ticket, accept it quietly and never complain. Listen to any instruction on paying the fine or contesting the ticket, and immediately leave.

If you are stopped in a car do not get out of the car, unless directed to do so. You should:

Do not immediately reach into the glove compartment or console for your license and registration. Officers do not know what you are reaching for. For their safety, and yours, officers need to be able to see your hands. Wait until the officer asks to see your paperwork before retrieving your documents.

3) Just Say No to Searches
If a police officer asks your permission to search, you should always say no. You should be respectful but clear and firm. “Officer, I do not consent to any searches.”

Your refusal is likely to lead to a response by the officer. No matter how pressured you may feel, remember, you never have to consent. You have a constitutional right to refuse. If an officer asks your permission it is probably because he doesn’t have enough evidence to search without your consent.
Police officers are NOT required to inform you of your rights before asking you to consent to a search. If the officer searches in spite of your objection, your attorney can argue that any evidence found during the search was illegally discovered and cannot be used against you in court. But, illegal searches cannot be challenged in court if you have consented.

4) Determine if You Can Leave
You have the right to terminate an encounter with a police officer unless you are being legally detained or are under arrest. The general rule is that you don’t have to answer any questions that the police ask you. This rule comes from the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects you against self-incrimination. If you cannot tell if you are allowed to leave, say to the officer, “I have to be on my way. Am I free to go?”

If the officer says “Yes,” tell him to have a nice day, and leave immediately. If the officer’s answer is ambiguous, or if he asks you another unrelated question, persist by asking “Am I being detained, or can I go now?” If the officer says “No,” you are being detained, and you may be placed under arrest. If this is the case, reassert your rights as outlined above, and follow Rules #5 and #6.

5) Remain Silent and Ask for an Attorney
Do not answer questions without a lawyer representing you present. Even seemingly casual small talk can come back to haunt you. Anything you say can, and probably will, be used against you.

In just about any case imaginable, a person is best off not answering any questions about his involvement in anything illegal. Assert your Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights by saying these exact words: “Officer, I’d like to remain silent and I’d like to speak with a lawyer.”
Keep in mind the credo: If no one talks, everyone walks. Regardless of what you are told by an investigating officer, you have nothing to gain by talking to the police … and everything to lose.

6) Do Not Try to Bargain
Police officers will often tell you that your cooperation will make things easier for you, and many people hope to be let off easy if they are honest and direct with the police. The only thing it makes easier is the officer’s job. Do not let the threat of arrest scare you into admitting guilt. Ask to speak with a lawyer, and remain silent.

7) Do Not Physically Resist
If the police proceed to detain, search, or arrest you despite your wishes-do not physically resist. You may state clearly but non-confrontationally: “Officer, I am not resisting arrest and I do not consent to any searches.” Or you may assert your rights by simply saying nothing until you can speak with an attorney.

8) Where to Go For More Help
If you feel your rights are being violated, try to wait until you can talk to a lawyer. If you don’t have your own lawyer you can fill out an application for a public defender to defend you. This application is available at the Clerk’s office and does require a $50.00 application fee. If you are determined to be indigent by the clerk, our office will be appointed to handle your case.