What to do if a police officer stops you

It can be an unnerving experience, even if you haven’t done anything wrong.

We all recognize the need for effective law enforcement, but we should also understand our own rights and responsibilities. You are guaranteed basic rights under the Constitution, but what you say to the police is always important. Everything you say can be used against you. 

So, if you are stopped or pulled over by the police, here are some helpful things to keep in mind:

The First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendments are your best friends

  • First: protects several basic freedoms in the United States including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble, and the right to petition the government.
  • Fourth: protects people from unlawful searches and seizures. This means that the police can’t search you or your house without a warrant or probable cause.
  • Fifth: covers a number of topics and issues including the grand jury, double jeopardy, self-incrimination (“taking the fifth”), due process, and eminent domain.
  • For More Information on these Amendments, Click Here.

You do not have to consent to a search, and if you opt out, make sure you verbally assert that right.

  • To exercise this right, you should tell the police, “I do not consent to this search.”
  • If the police say they have a search warrant, ask to see it.
  • If you do consent to a search, it can affect your rights later in court.

Check your state constitution, and look for state statutes that might grant you additional protections.

  • In New York City, police are required by law to let you know when they’re asking for your consent to a search and to let you know that you have the right to say no. 
  • For More Information on the Right to Know Act, Click Here.

Do not interfere with or obstruct the police—you can be arrested for doing so.

  • Don’t bad-mouth a police officer or run away, even if you believe what is happening is unreasonable.

After all of this, you still might have your rights violated. If that happens, try to stay hopeful that a court of law will uphold your rights and get an attorney. 

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