What to do when stopped by the police

When a police officer contacts you, it’s almost always an evolving situation. Sometimes police will approach you as a potential witness, but often times people have no idea why an officer has contacted them. Police invasion of your privacy can be intimidating, but you can protect yourself. Always remember to invoke your constitutional rights by following these five simple rules.

STAY CALM AND STAY SILENT

We always tell clients to imagine yourself as a statue. People naturally say things with their body language. As police ask you questions and you shake your head side to side to indicate that you don’t want to speak, police will interpret that motion as you “saying” “no” to their questions. If you’re calm and prepared, the constitution can be your shield.

By far the trickiest constitutional right to invoke is your right to remain silent. It’s on TV and it’s a part of the standard Miranda warning. Unfortunately, pure silence can also be used against you in a police interaction. For instance, you must give police an ID if you have one, and you almost always have to give them your name and date of birth in Missouri.

If your stop continues to evolve or if you feel uncomfortable, you must assert the following four statements.

I DO NOT CONSENT

Police are always trying to invade your personal space. Whether they want to search your pockets, purse, trunk, or home, you are not afforded the constitutional protections you don’t use. So always remember to say “I do not consent” anytime the police assert that they will search your effects or pat you down.

AM I FREE TO LEAVE

If the police have stopped you for over five minutes, always ask, “Am I free to leave?” If they say no that tells you something. In order to detain you, a police officer must have reasonable and articulable facts in his or her personal observations that a crime is currently in progress. It let’s you know that you are a suspect. But an officer may only detain you for a reasonable amount of time. The minute they detain you, a clock starts running. They do not have unlimited time to get back-up or dogs or anything else.

Always remember, nothing you do can make it go faster. Nothing you say, and consent to search will not make it go faster. Invoke your rights to protect yourself.

AM I UNDER ARREST

If an officer says that you are not free to leave ask, “Am I under arrest?” If they say you are under arrest that means that the officer believes that he or she has probable cause that a crime was committed, meaning they are at least fifty-one percent sure. They must tell you what you’re charged with and read you your Miranda rights. At this point, you will be booked at the station. Nothing you say or do will change that. Prepare to be transported by the police.

LAWYER

Once at the station the police will try to interview you, and you should only say one word: “Lawyer.” You must say it out loud in order to be protected. Say it clearly, and remember to be a statue. If you are in an interview room, it is likely recorded. This means you have to remain silent even when the police are not in the room. Once you have the ability, contact an experienced attorney to help you navigate the unique and intimidating world of police contact.