We live in dangerous times. Every day you hear a new story about someone that was accosted by the police and ended up getting injured or even losing their lives. A lot of people seem to be under the impression that the police are always going to do things by the book but this is not the case. There are a lot of police officers out there that would abuse their powers. As John Dahlberg has already observed:
Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.
It has become vital that you should be aware of what your rights are. If you know your rights, you can call out police officers that are violating them. There is a procedure that everyone should follow if they have been stopped by the police. Listed below are the various things that you should keep in mind in any situation where you are stopped by the police, be it a traffic related incidence or something more serious.
You Don’t Need to be a Citizen to Have Rights
While you are in the United States, no matter what happens you have certain constitutional rights. These rights are valid for every individual living in the country, whether or not they are citizens. You just have to be present on the country’s soil for the constitution to apply to you, and that means that the police can’t just do whatever they want. They are going to have to follow a legal process, which means that tourists and immigrants can also take into account the rights and tips posted below in order to help themselves stay safe whenever the police stop them.
This can be very difficult indeed, especially because of the fact that police officers can often be extremely condescending and aggressive themselves. However, it is important that you be on your best behavior. This is because you might end up saying something that you could get arrested for, something that would prove to be incriminating in a court of law.
A police officer might also get set off by rude behavior because they would see it as you disrespecting their authority. Hence, it is always best to just be quiet and only speak when an officer is asking you questions. Bear in mind that your responses should be truthful but brief. Don’t give the police officer any information that they have not asked for because it might make you look suspicious.
You Have the Right to Silence
This is one of the first things you are told when a police officer arrests you. If you don’t want to talk, no one can force you to do so at all. If you are forced to talk while your lawyer is not present this means that anything you say is going to end up being inadmissible in court. And the police officers that forced you to speak are going to end up being reprimanded at the very least. It is important to remember that you should never try to resist a police officer. They are known to often be unstable, hence it better to protect yourself.
You Don’t Have to Let Them Search Your Car
A lot of people are under the impression that if the police officers stop you, they are allowed to check your car and your belongings. This is completely untrue. In truth, the police can only search your car/possessions if they have a search warrant. You can choose to let them search your car, but you can also refuse to consent to the search and it would be perfectly within your legal rights. If you refuse to give your consent and they end up searching you anyway, you can press charges against the officers that did so. These laws have been put in place for your protection, and if you use them appropriately, you would be able to even the odds when it comes to police encounters.
You Can Leave if You’re Not Being Charged
This is a crucial thing to keep in mind. If the police stop you, they have no right to keep you there. If you are in a police station, you have the right to leave whenever you want unless someone is pressing charges against you. If you decide to get up and leave, the police have no right to stop you. In case they do attempt to, they are going to be digging a pretty deep hole for themselves. Hence, if you feel like you are being detained for no reason, just get up and calmly leave.
Immediately Ask for a Lawyer
Don’t wait. If you are getting arrested, especially if you are a person of color, you need to get a lawyer immediately. The police are going to try and make you say incriminating which could create harrowing circumstances. As a result, they may try and search your belongings. If you ask for a lawyer, the police are not going to be able to talk to you anymore before they get to the police station.
Ask If You Can Leave
If a police officer has stopped you and you feel like the stop is unnecessary, start recording the interaction and ask them if you can leave. If they say yes, you can leave and everything will be fine. However, if they say no they need to have something that they are charging you with or arresting you for, otherwise your detainment is completely illegal. Ask the question, be polite, and inquire as to whether or not you are being charged if the office in question says that you are not free to leave.
The Proper Procedure to Follow
Whenever a police officer hails you to stop, slow down immediately lest they think that you are trying to run away. Even if you are in a compromising position, such as if you don’t have your papers on you, or have contraband on you, DO NOT RUN. Running is just going to end up making things a whole lot worse for you and it might end up getting you in even bigger trouble that you are already in when you are eventually caught.
Once you start slowing down, stop your car in a safe place and only open your window part way. You don’t need to roll your window all the way down, indeed doing so might actually be bad for you as it would give the officer in question more access to your vehicle than he actually needs. This might give them the opportunity to abuse their power, and since cops are known to go overboard during checks you should try your best to Pass your documents through the crack in the window and one thing you should definitely remember to do are to keep your hands on the steering wheel of your car at all times. This would show the officers that you’re not a threat since they would be able to see that you are not reaching for anything dangerous. Before you reach for your documents, inform your police officer very calmly and clearly that you are going to do so, otherwise, they might end up thinking that you are reaching for a weapon and this could result in a dangerous situation for everyone involved.
Remember, as long as everything is in order there is no need for you to worry. A police stop is going to be a stressful situation, but one that you can get out of quite easily as long as you don’t allow your fright or panic to determine how you behave in that particular situation. These rules and tips can help make the whole experience a great deal easier to deal with.
The Police Can’t Ask for Immigration Papers
A lot of people are afraid of the police because they think that their immigration status might cause problems. While it is true that if an immigration officer asks for your papers you are obligated to provide them if they are with you, the police have no authority to ask for this and you are free to refuse if they try to abuse their power in this manner. If they insist they are no longer following standard procedure and you would be able to file a complaint against them if you so wish. As for immigration officers, they don’t usually take part in search and stop activities so you need not worry about them in this context.
If you are over the age of eighteen, it is recommended that you carry your documents around with you at all times. This would help things go smoother for you in the rare event that an immigration officer asks you for them. However, if you are not carrying your immigration papers at a certain point in time, you still have the right to remain silent. You can simply choose to exercise that right and the rest would be handled by your lawyer if you do get arrested.