Do you know what to do if you’re ever stopped by the police?
Do you have to talk to them?
Let them search you, your car, or your bag?
Most people panic when they’re stopped by the police and don’t know what their rights are. If you know your rights, and exercise them, officers cannot punish you for that. The key is knowing your rights, though.
Keep reading to learn about 8 rights you should know when dealing with police.
- You May Be Free to Go
If the police stop you and start asking questions, you don’t have to answer their questions (more on that later) nor do you have to stay if you’re not under arrest.
Ask them if you are free to go. If you are, go ahead and go.
Leave politely and without a lot of fanfare. That’s not the time to peel out of a parking space with your middle finger out the window.
If you are not free to go and are under arrest, stop talking and refer to number 4 below. Don’t answer any additional questions and ask for a lawyer.
- You Can Refuse a Breathalyzer Test, But You Might Lose Your License
If you get pulled over for suspected drinking and driving, pulled over for a traffic violation and exhibit signs of being under the influence, or go through a DUI checkpoint, you technically can refuse a Breathalyzer, but you might lose your license if you do.
Most states have something called implied consent. This means that because you are driving on that state’s roads, you are consenting to submit to a breath test should you get pulled over.
If you don’t consent, you could lose your license automatically or face criminal charges.
The Supreme Court has upheld these laws, essentially saying that a law enforcement officer does not need a warrant for a field breath test when you are driving.
- You Don’t Have to Allow a Warrantless Search
If officers ask if they can search your person, your bag, or your car, you can, and should, say no.
If they don’t have a warrant, they are hoping that you’ll consent to the search. If you say yes, which many people do, they can search immediately and not ever have to ask a judge for a search warrant.
The Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable search and seizure, so if they don’t have a warrant, don’t consent. It doesn’t imply that you have something to hide and police can’t use your refusal to consent as grounds to get a search warrant.
If they ask, say no, ask if you’re free to go, and if you are, hightail it out of there.
- You Can Remain Silent
You do not have to answer any questions the police ask you. The Fifth Amendment gives you the right to remain silent (aka “plead the Fifth”). You do not need to incriminate yourself and you can demand a lawyer and officer must stop questioning you.
Not only do you have the right to remain silent, you also have the right to an attorney. Use these rights to stop talking and ask for a lawyer.
- You Have the Right to Know Why They Stopped You
Law enforcement officers must tell you why they are arresting or detaining you. They must have reasonable suspicion or probable cause that you did something wrong. They can’t just make stops for no reason (although, let’s be honest, that does happen).
To compare the two, reasonable suspicion means officers think you may have been involved in illegal activity. Reasonable suspicion is enough for them to stop or detain you, but isn’t typically sufficient to get a search warrant.
Probable cause, on the other hand, indicates that officers have evidence to suggest that you were involved in wrongdoing. Probable cause is generally sufficient to get an arrest or search warrant from a judge.
- You Don’t Have to Let Police Into Your Home
If police officers knock on your door asking to come in, you can say no.
Unless they have a search warrant, you do not have to let them in your home. Just like not allowing them to search you, your bags, or your vehicle isn’t enough for them to go and get a warrant, not allowing them in your home doesn’t imply guilt either.
- Warrants Are Non-Negotiable
Once police officers have a search or arrest warrant, all bets are off. You can no longer refuse the search or refuse to be detained. If they have a warrant to search your home or car, you have to allow it.
The warrant should specify what they are looking for and where they can search. You should ask to see the warrant before you let them in.
- Stay Cool and Calm
Even if you’re pretty sure you didn’t do anything wrong, getting stopped by the police, even for a traffic violation, is panic-inducing.
If you get stopped, for whatever reason, remain calm, don’t get combative, and never, ever run or touch a police officer. Both of those things are just going to make the situation worse.
Final Thoughts on the Rights You Should Know When Dealing with Police
Law enforcement has a job to do and that job is often easier if you consent to a search or answer their questions without a lawyer present. The Constitution can’t enforce itself, so citizens must know and exercise their constitutional rights.
Familiarize yourself with these rights you should know when dealing with police to ensure your rights are not violated.
To learn more about your rights, how to exercise them, and what’s happening in the US and around the world, check out some of our other blog posts and news stories.