Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do if I am stopped by the police?

Think carefully about your words, movement, body language and emotions. Don't get into an argument with the police. Remember, anything you say or do can be used against you. Keep your hands where the police can see them. Don't run or touch any police officer. Don't resist even if you believe you are innocent. Don't complain on the scene or tell the police they're wrong or that you are going to file a complaint. Do not make any statements regarding the incident. Ask for a lawyer immediately upon your arrest. Remember the officers' badge and patrol car numbers. Write down everything you remember ASAP. Try to find witnesses and their names and phone numbers. If you are injured, take photographs of the injuries as soon as possible, but make sure you seek medical attention first. If you feel your rights have been violated, file a written complaint with the police department's internal affairs division or civilian complaint board. (1) What you say to the police is always important. What you say can be used against you, and it can give the police an excuse to arrest you, especially if you bad-mouth a police officer. (2) You must show your driver's license and registration when stopped in your car. Otherwise, you don't have to answer any questions if you are detained or arrested, with one important exception. The police may ask your name if you have been properly detained, and you can be arrested  in some states for refusing to give it. If you reasonably fear that your name is incriminating, you can claim the right to remain silent, which may be a defense in case you are arrested anyway. (3) You don't have to consent to any search of yourself, your car or your house. If you DO consent to a search, it can affect your rights later in court. If the police say they have a search warrant, ASK TO SEE IT. (4) Do not interfere with, or obstruct the police, you can be arrested.


What should I do if the police stop me for questioning?

(1) It's not a crime to refuse to answer questions, but refusing to answer might make the police suspicious about you.

(2) The police may "pat-down" your clothing if they suspect a concealed weapon. Don't physically resist, but make it clear that  you don't consent to any further search.

(3) Ask if you are under arrest. If you are, you have a right to know why.

(4) Don't bad-mouth the police or run away, even if you believe what is happening is unreasonable. That could lead to your arrest.


What should I do if the police stop my car?

(1) Upon request, show them your driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. In certain cases, your car can be searched without a warrant as long as the police have probable cause. To protect yourself later, you should make it clear that you do not consent to a search. It is unlawful for police to arrest you simply for refusing to consent to a search.

(2) If you are given a ticket, you should sign it; otherwise you can be arrested. You can always fight the case in court later.

(3) If you are suspected of drunk driving (DUI / DWI) and refuse to take a blood, urine, or breath test, your driver's license may be suspended or revoked.


What should I do if I am taken to the police station or arrested?

(1) You have the right to remain silent and talk to a lawyer before you talk with the police. Tell the police nothing except your name and address. Don't give any explanations, excuses or stories. You can make your defense later, in court, based on what you and your lawyer decide is best.

(2) Ask to see a lawyer immediately. If you can't pay for a lawyer, you have the right to a free one, and should ask the police how the lawyer can be contacted. Don't say anything without a lawyer.

(3) Within a reasonable time after your arrest, or booking, you have the right to make a local phone call: to a lawyer, bail bondsman, a relative or any other person. The police may not listen to call to the lawyer.

(4) Sometimes you can be released without bail, or have bail lowered. Have your lawyer ask the judge about this possibility. You must be taken before a judge on the next court day after arrest.

(5) Do not make any decisions in your case until you have spoken with a lawyer.


What should I do if the police come to my home?

(1) If the police knock and ask to enter your home, you don't have to admit them unless they have a warrant signed by a judge.

(2) In some emergency situations (when a person inside is screaming for help, or when the police are chasing someone) officers are allowed to enter and search your home without a warrant.

(3) If you are arrested, the police can search you and the area close by. If you are in a building, "close by" usually means just the room you are in.


The information on this page was produced by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).


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