Police Confrontations: Know Your Rights

Most people do not come into contact with police all that often.  But anyone can find himself or herself in a position where an officer is confronting them with wrongdoing.  Just by being in the United States gives you several constitutional rights such as the right to remain silent, the right to not be a witness against yourself, and the right to have an attorney.

What do you do when you become the target of a police investigation? First thing is to remain calm and be polite.  Do not make any spontaneous statements.  You can not physically resist an officer. Do ask if you are free to leave or free to decline a search.  A law enforcement officer is not allowed to misinform you on the law.


The police can only search you or your property if they have one of the following: 1) a warrant, 2) probable cause, or 3) your consent.  You never have to give consent to search.  You can’t physically prevent them from searching but you never have to consent.  Be clear and tell the officer you DO NOT give them permission to search and if you are free to leave you, want to do so.  If the police search illegally, your attorney can handle that later in a motion to suppress.

Quick tips

If the police approach you and you are not sure what to do, take the following steps:

  1. Be polite and stay calm.

  2. Ask “am I being detained or am I free to leave”?

  3. If he says you are free to leave, leave.

  4. If he says you are being detained, do not say another word without speaking to an attorney first.  Any statements you make can be used against you later on.

Then call and speak to an attorney.  Most attorneys offer free consultations.


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