When you encounter law enforcement, it’s important to know which actions are and which are not within your legal rights. If you’re unaware of your rights or are misinformed, doing the wrong thing can be very easy. Even acting the wrong way can make your situation far worse than it already is. Encounters with law enforcement officials can be stressful, but it’s important to keep a clear head and remember your rights. Here are some of the most important things to keep in mind.
- The absolute most important thing above all others is to remain calm. Law enforcement officials make many people extremely nervous. However, imagine for a minute how dangerous their position can be. The last thing you want to do is to make law enforcement nervous by acting out. That’s exactly how situations escalate and worse things begin to happen. Don’t try to run, don’t try to argue, and don’t try to resist them or obstruct what they’re doing.
- Ask, “Am I free to leave?” If and only if the officer says “Yes,” walk away from them calmly and without saying another word. Don’t run or provoke them and give them a reason to stop you again.
- Remember, you always have the right to remain silent. Don’t act childishly; tell the official that you are refusing to answer questions without the presence of your attorney. Take this well-known phrase to heart: anything you say can—and will—be used against you in a court of law.
- You absolutely do not have to consent to a search of either yourself or your belongings. Tell the officer that you do not consent to a search, but remember not to obstruct them. Officers absolutely do have the right to frisk you (or pat you down) if a weapon is suspected.
- Know the laws of wherever you are. Individuals may have different rights depending on what state they’re in, what part of the state, and whether or not they’re on federal property. Talk to a trusted lawyer ahead of time to make sure you understand exactly what laws are in place.
Remember your rights as an individual, stay calm, and avoid making the law enforcement official’s job more difficult—these are the things that will ensure your encounter with the law goes as smoothly as it possibly can.