Dealing with police
Encounters with police or law enforcement can be daunting. If you are like me you get anxiety upon sight. It does not matter if you are not doing anything deemed illegal. It’s a feeling. There are laws to protect us from tyranny, written in our constitution. I’d like to go over how to use these rights to protect you from daemons of law.
The first rule is to remain cool calm and collected. Police are trained to intimidate. Most people feel it immediately. Some show visible signs like bodily shaking. Cops will notice and use these signs to try to verbally intimidate you. Being silent is your best tool. You are not legally obligated to talk to or help an officer. There’s no need to answer any questions about where you are going, where you are traveling from, what you are doing, or where you live. To exercise your right to remain silent, just say you do not wish to speak.
This will, of course, piss the officer off. They do not like giving up control. Chances are they will want to push their intimidation tactics further. Do your best to remain cool, calm, collected, and above all silent. Only talk in question format. For example, feel free to ask or comment:
- Am I being detained?
- Am I free to go?
- Do you suspect me of committing a crime?
- I’d like to speak to your supervisor.
- Is that a lawful order?
- Do you have a warrant?
- I can not let you in without a warrant.
- I respectfully decline.
- What are your names and badge numbers?
- Do you have a reasonable articulable suspicion that I’m engaged in or about to engage in criminal activity?
- I do not consent to any searches or seizure of my property.
- I’m going to remain silent and would like to see a lawyer.
Police are allowed to speak to a person or ask a person questions at any time. They might do it to show that they are approachable and friendly or because they have reasonable suspicion (a hunch) or probable cause (facts) that the person is involved in a crime, has information concerning a crime, or has witnessed a crime.
You aren’t required to provide legal identification or your name, address, age, or other personal information during a consensual interview. A person in a consensual interview is free to leave at any time. In most states, police officers are not required to inform people that they can leave. Because it’s sometimes difficult to tell when interviews are consensual, people can ask the officer if they’re free to go. If the answer is yes, then the exchange was more than likely consensual.
Detention: ‘Terry Stops’ and Stop and Identity Laws
People are considered detained when their freedom is removed. In most states, police can detain anyone under circumstances that reasonably indicate the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. These are generally referred to as “Terry Stops,” referring to the standards established in the 1968 case Terry vs. Ohio. Whether individuals must provide personal identification under the Terry doctrine depends on individual state laws.
Many states now have “stop and identify” laws that require people to identify themselves when police have reasonable suspicion that they are engaged or about to engage in criminal activity. Under these laws, people who refuse to show identification can be arrested.
Stop and Identify
Under stop and identify laws in some states, people might be required to identify themselves but might not be required to answer additional questions or provide documents proving their identity.
Stop and identify laws exist in 24 states:
- Missouri (Kansas City only)
- New Hampshire
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
To determine if police are asking you for ID because you are under “reasonable suspicion,” politely ask the officers if they are detaining you or if you are free to go. If you are free to go and you don’t want to divulge your identity, you can walk away. But if you are detained, you will be required by law in most states to identify yourself or risk arrest.
You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings, but police may pat down your clothing if they suspect a weapon. Note that refusing consent may not stop the officer from searching. However, making a timely objection before or during the search can help preserve your rights in court. You do not have to answer questions about where you were born, whether you are a U.S. citizen, or how you entered the country. Stay silent and calm. Don’t run, resist, or obstruct the officers. Do not lie or give false documents. Keep your hands where the police can see them.
Amendments 4 and 5 of the constitution protect your rights during encounters with police:
4A) The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
5A) No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise, infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
Though the 5th amendment protects your right to remain silent, the sixth amendment protects your right to defense:
6A)In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.
This means you have the right to a lawyer as soon as you are accused. So if you ask “Do you have a reasonable articulable suspicion that I’m engaged in criminal activity” and the officer provides “reasonable articulable suspicion” then its best to shut up after asking for a lawyer. Give no explanations or excuses. Say nothing. Do not sign anything, or make any decisions without a lawyer. At the station, you have the right to make a local phone call. The police cannot listen if you call a lawyer. They can and often do listen if you call anyone else.
“Good cop, bad cop” is a real thing. If you are brought to a police station, you may be subjected to the “Reid technique”:
- Isolation. Officers isolate the suspect from family and friends, in the hopes that it will make the person feel alone. The reliance on isolation led to the development of the modern, windowless interrogation room.
- Maximization. The officer starts by stating that the suspect is guilty. The officer knows it and the defendant knows it. The officer will then present a theory of the crime (sometimes supported by other evidence, sometimes completely fabricated) that offers details that the suspect can later parrot back to the officer. The officer ignores or refutes any claims of innocence by the defendant. This is the “bad cop” portion of the interview. The cop knows that suspect is lying, knows that the suspect did it, and the suspect is wasting everyone’s time with protests of innocence.
- Minimization. Finally, after the officer had made it clear to the suspect that no claims of innocence will be entertained, the officer moves on to the “good cop” portion of the interview. Now, the police officer tells the suspect that the officer understands why the suspect did it and everyone else will understand too. Won’t the suspect feel better after confessing? If the suspect confesses, good things will happen – a lesser charge, a chance to go home. If not, the suspect will remain in custody forever.
The best thing you can do is not be intimidated. Stand firm by being silent, at this point the only thing you should say is “I want a lawyer”.
Do not be fooled
Never tell a cop “I know my rights” just show them by exercising your rights. If you do not use them you will lose them. Do not get tricked, police can legally lie to you, and they will try to trick you into giving up your rights. Tactics include but are not limited to threats and promises. The police use the same verbiage and mindset as that of a rapist. “Just do what I say and things will be easier for you.” Do not take the bait. They are public servants who work for the public and have sworn an oath to protect the constitution. Hold them to it. “Are you detaining me or am I free to go” is the best answer you can give to any question, threats, or promises an officer may present.
- The Bill of Rights: The bedrock of your rights in the face of the law.
- The Fourth Amendment: Your right to protection in your “persons, houses, papers, and effects.”
- Your Miranda Rights: An explanation of how you are “Mirandized” and what that means.
- What is Reasonable Suspicion?: Explanation of this legal standard that applies to searches, seizures, and arrests.
- What is Probable Cause?: A guide for when judges can issue warrants or justify arrests.
With a Gun:
- Guarantees of the right to bear arms: A list of state constitutions that guarantee the right to bear arms.
- Legal Theory, Right to Bear Arms The Legal theory behind your right to bear arms, with an emphasis on the Constitution.
- Handgun Laws Map: A map linked to state-level information on handgun and carry laws.
- Guide to Interstate Firearm Transportation: A guide to your rights in transporting firearms via the interstate.
- Guide to Airline Firearm Transportation: A guide to your rights in transporting firearms via plane.
- Your Right to Defense Against Unlawful Arrest: A list of cases confirming your right to defend yourself against unlawful arrest.
- Stopped by the police?: ACLU’s guide to your rights and being stopped by the police.
- Seven Rules for Recording Police: A guide to your rights when filming cops.
- Can you swear at cops?: A guide to the difference between free speech, yelling and swearing.
- Peacefully Protesting: How to protest peacefully, effectively, and within your rights.
- Rights of Non-Citizens: ACLU’s guide to non-citizen rights and law enforcement.
In the Car:
- Rights when you’re pulled over: A look at when cops can and can’t pull you over.
- When police can search your car: An outline of when police can and can search your car, and what your rights are.
- Your Rights at Checkpoints: A guide to a variety of checkpoints and your rights.
- When Police Can Use Drug Dogs: Your 4th Amendment rights and drug dog searches.
- Car Passenger Rights: The 4th amendment rights of Passengers in cars stopped by police.
- DUI Dodger App: An app that warns you of DUI checkpoints within 50 miles.
- Fixed App: An app that helps preserve your rights when ticketed.
In your House:
- Police at your door: A guide to your rights when the police come to your home.
- Rights of Minor Students: A guide to who can make you answer questions as a minor.
- Your rights in private school: A look at how student rights are different in public and private schools.
- Guide to Constitutional Rights on Campus: A series of guides on your rights as a college student.
- 6 Tips to Protect Your Rights in College: A guide to defending your rights when charged with a crime on campus.
At the Station:
- Being Questioned: ACLU’s guide to your rights when police question you.
At the Airport:
- Your rights at airports: ACLU’s guide to your rights at airports and ports of entry.