Dealing With Police & Knowing How To Protect Yourself
Talking to police can be stressful and uncomfortable, even when you’ve done nothing wrong! The situation is only worse when we are constantly listening to news stories of bad encounters, police brutality, and overall “bad cops.” You may be wondering what your rights are when talking to police, and how to protect yourself. Below we have information for what to do when dealing with police, what not to do, and some rights you should know about. In general, the choices our clients make when interacting with police can have a major impact on their case.
Things You Should Do
The most important rule is to always be calm and polite. Even the most professional police officers can become aggressive if they feel threatened. Always be mindful of your language, tone of voice, and body language. It may feel frustrating to have to be respectful if you feel they are not respecting you in return. However, being calm and polite can stop a bad situation from turning worse and ensure your safety.
If you are being pulled over, it is good practice to pull over immediately, turn off your car (except for your lights), and place your hands on the wheel. Police like to see your hands for their own safety, so avoid reaching for your paperwork before they ask. Having your car lights on at night is important so police can tell you are not armed. These guidelines will ensure police you are not a danger, and will hopefully have a positive effect on your encounter. One thing to note is that police can legally order you out of your vehicle, so you should comply when asked. For more information on what to do when pulled over, see our blog post Top 5 Things To Remember In A Traffic Stop.
If the police are pressuring you into a search, asking you questions, or generally hassling you, you should ask if you are free to go. Simply ask “Are you detaining me, or am I free to go?” Unless the officer is planning to detain or arrest you, they should let you leave. This also establishes that the encounter is not voluntary, which will help you later if you end up in court.
Things You Should Not Do
You should not assert that you know your rights, know a high powered attorney, or something similar. You do not want to seem hostile or make the officer angry. Instead, show them you know your rights by asserting them calmly.
Do not waive your rights. The police can and will legally lie to you. Never let false threats or promises trick you into waiving your rights.
While this may seem like a no brainer, never run from the police. Running can indicate there is probable cause you committed a crime.
During stop and frisks, you may verbally assert your refusal to consent. However, never touch an officer or physically resist. If you touch an officer, it can lead to you being tased, beaten, or charged with felony assault.
Never tell them you are going to file a complaint or ask for their badge number. You don’t want unnecessary aggression. See the section below on reporting misconduct for more detail.
Your Most Important Rights When Dealing With Police
4th Amendment – Search and Seizure
The 4th Amendment guarantees your right against unreasonable searches and seizures. You do not have to consent to searches. You have a right to refuse! And to use this right, you must have the ability to clearly state your refusal under pressure. “I don’t consent to searches” will do the trick. Refusing a search request is not evidence of guilt. There are plenty of other reasons to refuse. For example, searches can get really messy, and since you consented, you may not be compensated for damages should your property break. And you never know what a friend, relative, or previous owner has left in your car or home.
If the officer has known facts that provide sufficient reason to believe a crime has been committed, they do have probable cause to search your car without your consent. If they do not have these facts, but think have found suspicious evidence of behavior suggesting criminal activity, they can detain you for further investigation. You can be ordered out of your car legally.
In your home, do not let them in without a warrant. You should talk to police on the porch or outside, and close the door behind you.
5th Amendment – “Pleading the 5th”
The 5th Amendment guarantees that no person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without the due process of law. You may better know it as your right to remain silent. You always have the right to remain silent, and most of the time you should use that right. If you are being arrested or interrogated, ask for a lawyer. You can simply say, “Officer, I am going to remain silent. I would like to see a lawyer.” While you are not legally required to identify yourself if on the street, it may still be in your best interest to avoid hostility. You should identify yourself if asked, but make sure you do it correctly and do not lie.
6th Amendment – “Lawyer Up”
The 6th Amendment guarantees the right of the accused to have the assistance of counsel for their defense. This is your right to a lawyer. You should always ask for a lawyer, even if they do not read your rights. If you ask for a lawyer and then keep talking, those statements can be used against you. Don’t sign anything without a lawyer. Normally, the only document that is safe to sign is a promise to appear in court.
Reporting Police Misconduct
There are steps you can take to report police misconduct. The City and County of Denver have a civilian oversight agency called the Office of the Independent Monitor. They oversee the Police and Sheriff’s Department in Denver and issue annual reports. Complaints taken from the Office of the Independent Monitor are forwarded to the Internal Affairs Bureau for internal investigation. The Internal Affairs Bureau does accept reports from civilians but determinations regarding misconduct are handled within the agency. If you are not in Denver, many other cities have similar programs – do some research and find out where to report.
If you are planning to report a bad police officer, make sure you sit down with all witnesses who saw the incident and get their information and their stories. Write down or record the incident right away. Also, try to remember everything they say and exactly how they say it. If you were brutalized by police, make copies of any hospital records.
Keep in mind that going through an internal investigation is not the same thing as “suing the cops.” That would entail a long, uphill, costly battle with the entire city. Sometimes it may feel pointless to report misconduct if you believe nothing is going to happen. Especially when recent news stories seem to back that up (Hello, Aurora PD). It’s important to remember that your report can still have an effect, especially if there are multiple complaints against the same officer. You never know if your report can stop another bad police encounter from happening to another person down the road.
Need More Help?
Dealing with police and understanding your rights can be confusing. If you have more questions, or need legal help, consider reaching out to Nicol Gersch Petterson for a free 30-minute consultation. Find more information at https://NicolGerschLaw.Com or call 970.670.0378.
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