If a police officer wants to stop and question you, whether or not you must comply depends on the circumstances and the reasons the officer has for questioning you. This article will explore some of the common questions people have about their rights and responsibilities when approached by a law enforcement officer.
If an officer wants to stop me while I'm walking on the street and I know I've done nothing wrong, should I comply?
Police officers may interfere with your freedom of movement only if they have observed unusual activity or received information suggesting that criminal activity is afoot and that you are involved. Even if the officers are mistaken, however, you do not have the right to keep walking. As long as the offices have a good faith belief in your connection to criminal activity, they are allowed to detain you. This doesn't mean that you must answer all of the officer's questions.
If I am legally stopped by a officer on the street, can I be searched?
Yes and no. A police officer is permitted to briefly frisk your outer clothing for weapons if the officer reasonably fears for his or her own safety. A frisk is different from a search, however. A search may be conducted for evidence of a crime or contraband (an illegal item) and may be much more intrusive than a frisk. An officer may not search you without good cause to believe that you committed a crime or that you're hiding an illegal item.
How does a frisk become a search? (And possibly an arrest)
When frisking a person for weapons, the police are attuned not only to the feel of possibly weapons under clothing, but also to the feel of packaged drugs. Although a frisk may not turn up a weapon, it may turn up a suspicious package that the officer knows is commonly used to carry illegal drugs or some other illegal substance. A discovery like that may give the officer the right to conduct a more intensive search of the person's clothing. The lesson here is that frisk often leads to a search. And if a search process an illegal substance, it may result in an arrest.
If I am questioned by a police officer after being stopped on the street, do I have to respond?
The general rule is that you don't have to answer any questions that the police ask you. This rule comes from the 5th amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects from self-incrimination. As with all rules, however, there is an exception. Many local and state governments have antiloitering laws that require people to account for their presence if the police have a reasonable suspicion that they are loitering. Once the police have asked all of their questions about loitering, however you don't have to answer any others - such as questions about a crime in the neighborhood.
Do the police always need a warrant to conduct a search?
No, In many situations, police may legally conduct a search without first obtaining a warrant.
If I am stopped by a officer in my vehicle what do I do?
Stop the car in a safe place as quickly as possible. Turn off the car, turn on the internal light, open the window part way and place your hands on the wheel. Upon request, show police your driver's license, registration and proof of insurance. If an officer asks to look inside your car, you can refuse to consent to the search. But if police believe your car contains evidence of a crime, your car can be searched without your consent. Both drivers and passengers have the right to remain silent. If you are a passenger, you can ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, sit silently or calmly leave. Even if the officer says no, you have the right to remain silent.
Remember your rights:
- You have the right to remain silent. If you wish to exercise that right, say so out loud.
- You have the right to refuse to consent to a search of yourself, your car or your home.
- If you are not under arrest, you have the right to calmly leave.
- You have the right to a lawyer if you are arrested. Ask for one immediately.
- Regardless of your immigration or citizenship status, you have constitutional rights.
- Do stay calm and be polite.
- Do not interfere with or obstruct the police.
- Do not lie or give false documents.
- Do prepare yourself and your family in case you are arrested.
- Do remember the details of the encounter.
- Do file a written complaint or call an attorney.
If you feel your rights have been violated remember:
-Police misconduct cannot be challenged on the street. Don't physically resist officers or threaten to file a complaint.
-Write down everything you remember, including officers' badge and patrol car numbers, which agency the officers were from, and any other details.
-Get contact information for witnesses. If you are injured, take photographs of your injuries (but seek medical attention first).
-File a written complaint with the agency's internal affairs division or civilian complaint board. In most cases, you can file a complaint anonymously if you wish.