Outside Contributors

How to Handle Police Encounters Successfully

How to Handle Police Encounters Successfully

When you’re pulled over by the police, dozens of thoughts go through your mind. What documents do I need when getting pulled over? Will I have to consent to a search? How much information must I give to the officer? 

We’ll make you an informed citizen by discussing your rights and responsibilities. We will also guide you in communicating during a police encounter, whether you’re in your car, on the street, or at your home.

Know Your Constitutional Rights

In an encounter with police, the First, Fourth, and Fifth amendments are the most relevant to your situation. The First Amendment protects your right to record police interactions.

The Fourth Amendment protects you from unreasonable search and seizure, and the Fifth guarantees your right to remain silent. These apply to both citizens and non-citizens in the U.S. 

Also, find out what rights or obligations you may have depending on the state or jurisdiction. For example, you are not required to identify yourself in most states, as you are in Arizona. 

If You Are Pulled Over for a Traffic Stop

Once you realize you’re being stopped in your vehicle, you want to find a safe place to pull over as quickly as possible. Turn off the car, open the window partially, and place your hands on your steering wheel. 

Be prepared to show your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. This is a consensual encounter when the officer doesn’t necessarily suspect a crime has occurred. Just remember that driving without insurance and driving with open containers of alcohol is illegal in most states and can result in suspension and fines.

If the officer asks to look inside your car, refuse. If the police believe your car contains evidence of a crime, they can search your vehicle without your consent. The driver and the passengers have the right to remain silent. 

If you are being detained, the police reasonably suspect a crime may have occurred. Therefore, the officer may ask to search you while you are detained. If the search leads to anything incriminating, you may be arrested.

Don’t offer too much information. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say will go into a police report and into the hands of a potential prosecutor. Your safest course is to stay quiet. Give only information that is strictly necessary without the advice of an attorney.

You Don’t Have to Allow a Search

If you opt-out of a search, state that fact verbally. Simply say that you do not consent under the Fourth Amendment. You must make a verbal assertion of your lack of consent. In other words, it must be said out loud.   

Police may not ask for your consent directly. Realize that the question may be casual. The officer may say some version of, “Can I look in the bag?” or “Could you pop your trunk?” or “Can you unlock your phone?”Just say no, under your Fourth Amendment rights. 

You Have the Right to Record the Encounter

Under the First Amendment, you have the right to use your phone to record what is happening. Understand the advantages of smartphone technology in police encounters. As long as you do not interfere with what the officers are doing and do not obstruct their movements, you have the right to record events in public spaces.

Don’t try to hide the fact that you are recording. Police cannot confiscate or demand to see photographs or video without a warrant. They certainly cannot delete your pictures or video under any circumstances.

If You Believe Your Rights Are Violated

Even if you do everything you should, you may still have your rights violated. For example, an officer may search without your consent or violate your rights in some other way. If you’ve been injured, seek medical attention immediately, and photograph your injuries.

Write down officers’ badges and patrol car numbers, the agency the officers were from, and other details. Note any injuries you observe and weapons used by police. Try to get contact information for witnesses. 

Write and file a complaint with the agency’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board. In most cases, you can file the complaint anonymously. 

Alexandra Arcand writes and researches for the car insurance comparison site, CarInsurance.org. She is passionate about educating her readers on their legal rights.

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