Legal Review: How to Navigate Police Encounters

Police encounters can be sour experiences that can quickly go south if you do the wrong thing. It is best to understand your rights and what the law requires you to do to navigate these situations safely.

However, you should note that these rights will only protect you if you use them. In fact, the best thing you can do if arrested is stay quiet and wait for representation from your attorney.

We take a look at some common scenarios where you can encounter the police and what you should do in these situations. Take a read below:

What to Do if the Police Stop You in Public

If the police stop you in public for whatever reason, it is best to know your rights and what you should and shouldn’t do.

Your Rights

  1. You have the right to remain silent, and you can say out loud that you wish to exercise this right. However, in some states, the laws require you to identify yourself, and an officer might arrest you for failing to do so.
  2. You do not have to agree to a physical search of yourself or your belongings, but the police might still carry on if they suspect you are concealing a weapon.
  3. You have the right to a government-provided lawyer if you cannot afford an attorney.
  4. You do not have to answer any immigrant-related questions (international borders, airports, and individuals with specific nonimmigrant visas are an exception).

Next Steps After an Arrest

  1. Immediately ask for a lawyer and make it clear to the officer that you wish to remain silent.
  2. Note that you have the right to a local phone call, and while the police can listen if you call anyone, they can’t listen if you call your lawyer.

What to Do if the Police Pulled You Over

If you get pulled over by an officer, here is a breakdown of what you should do:

  1. You and your passengers have the right to remain silent.
  2. Pull over in a safe place away from traffic.
  3. Turn off the car, and put your hands on the wheel.
  4. Passengers can ask if they are free to exit the car.
  5. Follow the officer’s instructions by providing your driver’s license, proof of insurance, and registration.
  6. Keep your hands where the officer can see them at all times.

What to Do if the Police Are at Your Door

If for whatever reason, the police knock on your door, here is what you should do:

  1. You don’t have to invite the officers inside. Talk to them through the door and ask them for identification. Only let them inside once they show you a warrant signed by a judicial officer listing your address.
  2. Even with a warrant, you still have the right to remain silent. You should observe what they do and record everything if possible.

What To Do if You Think Your Rights Were Violated

In any of the situations listed above, the officer might violate your rights in one way or another. Here is what you should do:

  1. Document everything that transpired and note down the specifics of the officers involved. This includes their badges, patrol car numbers, and more.
  2. If you sustain injuries, seek medical attention and take photographic evidence of the injuries.
  3. With all the evidence at hand, file a formal complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board.

What You Should Do if You Witness Police Brutality?

So, you come across a possible case of police brutality. What should you do? Here are the steps to take:

  1. First, make sure you are at a safe distance and not interfering. If possible, use your phone to record the whole situation and make it clear that you are recording it.
  2. Be aware that taking photos and videos is your right under the first amendment, and if an officer orders you to stop recording, you should remind them of this.
  3. Remember that some officers might still arrest you even if it is unlawful. Hence, you need to weigh the risks of continuing to record.
  4. Write down everything you remember about the incident, including the officers’ names and badges.

Final Words

Police encounters can be stressful experiences. But, by approaching these situations proactively, you can avoid violence and handle the entire process smoothly without any hiccups. Most of the time, it is best to remain silent and wait for your attorney.

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