One of the questions we as criminal defense attorneys get on a regular basis from cleints, friends and family is, "What do I do and what are my rights when dealing with the police?" It is completely understandable that for most people, dealing with the police can be very intimidating. However, it is very important to understand that while police officers deserve our utmost respect and admiration for protecting our communities, sometimes, due to their many years of dealing with criminals, they automatically jump to conclusions or because of the inherent danger of their job, they are quick to react, sometimes excessively and unnecessarily. So, here are some tips on what to do and how to act in order to protect your rights, all while ensuring that the interaction is as smooth as possible:
Remain calm and respectful- If you start off the interaction by giving the police officer an attitude, then it is just going to go south from there. Keep in mind, even if you know you haven't done anything illegal, the police officer is just doing his job, and your attitude has a huge influence on how the rest of the interaction will go.
You have the right to remain silent! While everyone seems to know that they have this right, especially after hearing it on various t.v. shows, this is the first thing that most people forget when dealing with the police. This is probably one of the most important tips, as anything you say can and will be used against you. This is true even if you have done absolutely nothing wrong, as your words can be manipulated to make it seem like you have. An easy way to remember this, guilty or innocent, is: "The fish who opened his mouth is the fish that got caught."
You have the right to refuse a search of your vehicle or home- Many times people are intimidated by the police officer's show of force (numerous cop cars, officers in uniforms with guns, etc.), and allow them to search either their car or home without a warrant. According to the law, your home is your castle, and there are very limited circumstances where police officers can search it without a warrant. If an officer is asking you for permission to search, it is likely because they know that they have no legal right to search without your consent.
Ask if you are free to leave- In order to detain you, police officers need a certain level of evidence that you have committed, or are about to commit a crime. Despite this requirement, many people continue their interactions with the police officer, and eventually give the officer enough information to justify the prolonged detention. If you are stopped by a police officer, you should comply with their requests for identification, and then ask them if you are free to leave.
Abide by their commands to keep your hands up or out of your pockets- Remember, police officers often find themselves in dangerous situations with dangerous people, so even if you are not one of them, the police officer does not know that. Therefore, when an officer tells you to put your hands up, or to not make certain movements, you should listen. Failing to follow these commands could result in injury or death, as the officer may feel the need to protect himself.