Being stopped by police is rarely a pleasant experience, and is much more often than not a scary and stressful situation. The majority of this country’s law enforcement agencies have good police officers that bravely perform their duties, place themselves in harm’s way daily, and serve their communities faithfully. But there are also over-aggressive and confrontational police officers that can quickly escalate interactions with citizens. Here are some tips to help you survive your next encounter with the police:
- Remain Calm & Polite: Confrontational officers may use derogatory and offensive language towards you or intentionally say things to elicit a reaction/response from you. Don’t take the bait. Remember that anything you say may be recorded and played for a jury one day. So, it’s beneficial for you to remain calm, don’t use foul or offensive language, and don’t engage in conflict.
- Don’t Make Sudden Movements and Provide Your ID: If an officer stops you, SLOWLY provide your identification and let the officer know you are reaching for it. Keep your hands visible. Ask if you are being detained. If you the officer says you are not being detained, immediately LEAVE. If you are being detained, politely ask the officer the basis.
- Exercise Your Right to Remain Silent and Don’t Consent to Searches: Police don’t have to tell you the truth and can trick you into self-incrimination. They’ll tell you that they will cut you a break or take it easy on you if you cooperate, but it’s best to not answer questions and wait for your lawyer to be with you before you answer questions. You also don’t have anything to gain by consenting to a search, so it’s best not to give your consent.
- Never Fight Back – Let Your Lawyer Fight Your Battle: Ask questions, but don’t try to be a lawyer. Some questions you may want to ask are: Why am I being stopped? Do you suspect me of committing a crime? Do you have a body camera on? What did I do? DO NOT attempt to be a lawyer and declare that you know your rights. Let an actual lawyer fight that fight for you. Most importantly NEVER even attempt to swing your arms, push off, flee, walk away, or resist in any way, EVEN if you feel your rights are being violated (which they very well might be). Let your lawyer hold them accountable for that later.
If an officer tells me to leave a public area, do I have to? If you are on private property without permission, interfering with traffic or doing something unlawful, the officer can ask you to leave. If they are telling you to leave because they don’t like what you’re saying, the order isn’t legal. If you choose to not comply with an UNlawful order, make sure you do so peacefully and without violence.
Can I record video or take pictures of the police? Absolutely. It is 100% legal to record or take pictures of police officers performing their duties in public. Make sure you keep a safe distance and are not interfering with the police investigation or with them performing their duties. Try not to scream or yell obscenities at the police. The more video and (clear) audio you are able to capture, the better.
Can an officer search me on the street if I’m not under arrest? If the officer doesn’t have a warrant, there are 2 limited circumstances where they can still stop and search you. The first circumstance is if they have your consent. If you say you consent to them searching you, they can. The second circumstance is when the officer has reasonable suspicion that you are engaged in some kind of criminal activity. In this circumstance, they can stop you briefly and also pat you down on the outside of your clothing for weapons if they have a reasonable suspicion you may be armed. But they CANNOT conduct a full search of you without a warrant.
If an officer tells me to stop, do I have to stop walking? You should initially stop and ask the officer if they have a reasonable suspicion that you are committing a crime. If they don’t, LEAVE. Encounters without reasonable suspicion are voluntary encounters, no different than any encounter with strangers on the street. If they do have a reasonable suspicion, then they can detain you briefly to investigate.
What do I do during a traffic stop? Roll your drivers side window down. You only have to provide the officer with your driver’s license, the registration for the vehicle you are driving, and the auto insurance for the vehicle you’re driving. You do NOT have to give them your social security number or other information. It’s also best to keep both hands visible on the steering wheel, let the officer know where you are going to reach to get the documents before you SLOWLY retrieve them.
You can reach Shayan directly at Shayan@ModarresLaw.com or (202) 780-9590 with more questions about this or other legal matters.
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