Know Your Rights: Things to know when talking to police

August 30, 2021

For many, talking to cops is not always an easy thing to do. Whether it’s a routine traffic stop, if you’re the victim of a crime, or even if you’re a suspect in a crime, knowing your rights and how to talk to law enforcement is an extremely useful, and sometimes necessary, thing to know.

In this piece we’ll be talking about some of the do’s and don’ts of talking to police in California according to law offices, experts, and the American Civil Liberties Union.

First, let’s address what the context is:

There are generally three types of police encounters.

Consensual Encounters – This can either be when you’re answering questions voluntarily (maybe you witnessed a crime or an accident) or you, or someone else, called the police because you may have been a victim of a crime. It’s very important to know that in this type of encounter YOU ARE FREE TO LEAVE WHENEVER YOU WANT.

It’s very important to ask the law enforcement officer you’re talking to if you are being detained, arrested, or if you are free to leave. Law experts recommend that you always remain polite, but to have this question answered in the beginning stages of your encounter. If you are not being detained or arrested, you are free to leave and you are not required to answer any questions or provide any information, if you do not feel comfortable doing so.

Detentions – The second type of encounter listed is a detention. Many will experience detention at least once in their lives. These include routine traffic stops and sometimes investigations into crimes. During these encounters you ARE NOT allowed to leave.

During this period you do have THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT, but you still may be required to provide information, especially if you are stopped in your car (such as license, registration, and proof of insurance). Refusing to provide this information may result in an arrest.

Whether you’ve been detained in your car or outside of your car, you can still STATE YOUR CONSENT OR NON-CONSENT FOR A SEARCH. However, do not resist a search, you may be arrested, but still clearly state if you do or do not consent to one, this may help in your trial if there is one.

Other quick tips from the ACLU on detentions:

If in your car, keep your hands on the wheel and let the officer know that you will be reaching for the required documents, (license, registration, proof of insurance) when you are about to do so.
If you receive a ticket, sign it. You may be arrested if you don’t.
Take the DUI test, unless you want to risk your license being suspended.
You can always ask the officer if a licensed driver can pick up your car and park it in a safe location to avoid towing fees or a parking ticket on your vehicle.

What you SHOULDN’T do during a detention.

Do not physically resist a search, simply state that you do not consent.
Do not search for license or registration until asked to do so.
Don’t disrespect the officer. According to the ACLU you of course “have a constitutional right to do so” but doing so, may lead to your arrest.
Don’t try to bribe the police.
Do not have anything hanging from your rear-view mirror, as it might give police a reason to pull you over.

In the event of your arrest, the ACLU recommends only giving your name and basic information and nothing else.
The ACLU also advises those who are arrested to make sure they get their three phone calls within three hours and that two additional calls can be given if you have children under 18 to arrange for childcare.
Police do record calls and ANYTHING YOU SAY CAN BE USED AGAINST YOU IN YOUR TRIAL. Unless the call is with your lawyer, these calls cannot be recorded or used against you.
Again, the ACLU advises that when arrested, you do not disclose or talk about anything to the police besides giving them basic information like your name and address and to not make any decisions about your case until you talk to your lawyer, no matter what the police tell you.

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