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Surviving a Police Stop

What to Do & What to Expect When Stopped by the Police

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When stopped or confronted by a police officer, know your rights and understand what you should or should not do when interacting with law enforcement officers. To some, the advice given below may seem like common sense. However, there are many specific details people need to know about what behavior is expected, what behavior is acceptable, and what can get you in serious trouble.

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Use Common Sense & Don’t Lose Your Cool

If pulled over or taken aside by a police officer, use common sense and avoid escalating the confrontation. Remain calm, be polite, and comply with any lawful orders.

When you lose your temper, insult or swear at a police officer, or otherwise demean yourself, you are inviting arrest and possibly a charge of assault upon a police officer (a charge which does not require actual physical contact and could result in a second degree felony charge).

If you threaten to harm an officer with a firearm or deadly weapon (or a police officer claims that you did), the charges could be enhanced to a first-degree felony punishable by up to life in prison. Your goal is to end this interaction with the officer without arrest or charges, and the only thing you can control is your own conduct, so play it smart.

When Can You Film an Officer?

You, or persons around you, are free to audio or video record your interaction with law enforcement, as long as the recording does not physically interfere with the police’s duties.

When and for How Long Can an Officer Legally Detain You?

After a brief initial detention, an officer must allow you to carry on, unless the officer issues you a citation, or arrests you, for a suspected offense. Do not flee or obstruct the officer in anyway as this will certainly lead to your arrest for flight from, or obstruction of, the officer.

Search and Seizure: Know Your Rights

While detained or arrested, you should never give consent to any search. This includes a search of your car, home, property, or person. If a police officer asks you to consent to a search, or begins what appears to be a search, make it clear that you do NOT consent to the search.

What if the Police Claim they Have a Warrant?

If a police officer states the officer has a warrant to search your car, home, property, or person, you have the right to see the warrant, but you do not have the right to challenge a warrant from a magistrate at the time of the search; leave that to your attorney later.

Are Random “Pat Downs” Legal?

If a police officer believes you are involved in criminal activity, the law allows a police officer to conduct a limited search, or “pat down”, for “officer safety”, that is, to look for weapons. If the officer finds anything believed to be illegal during this “pat down” search, the officer may seize that item. Remember to always make it clear that you do not consent to any (further) search of your car, home, property, or person.

Do I Have to Answer Questions the Police Ask Me?

No. You have the right to remain silent and to refuse to answer questions, exercise these rights fully. Make it clear to the officer that you are invoking your right to remain silent. Do not worry if your refusal to answer questions seems suspicious or makes you look guilty. The police are already suspicious of you; that is why they stopped you.

If you are in the driver’s seat of a car, you must provide your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. If you are stopped in any other situation, you are not required to give your name, but giving false information is a crime, so never lie.

Am I Under Arrest or Free to Go?

During a stop, a police officer is allowed to detain you for questioning in relation to any suspected criminal activity. If the officer wishes to detain you longer, or move you to another location (such as a police station), the officer must arrest you. Ask clearly if you are being arrested or are free to go. 

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