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How to Exercise Your Rights When Confronted by Police


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Recent tragedies have created tension between officers and civilians: fear in the law enforcement, and anger in civilians. It’s important to know your responsibilities along with your rights if you’re confronted by a police officer.

You have the right:

  • To remain silent. Oddly, in order to exercise that right, you must state aloud that you’re exercising your right to remain silent.
  • To decline an illegal stop or illegal search.
  • To refuse consent to search your person, car, or home without a warrant.
  • To keep your shoes on. You do not have to take off your shoes, socks, or empty your pockets without a court warrant.
  • To a lawyer. Ask for one.
  • To calmly leave if you are not being detained. In order to exercise that right, you must ask if you are free to leave. If you are not being detained, you can simply walk away. Unless the officer has a legal reason to stop and search you, you must be allowed to go.


You have the responsibility:

  • Not to interfere with or obstruct a police officer. Make an officer’s job easier and don’t harass or interfere during an investigation.
  • Not to lie or give false documents. Making false statements or giving a fake ID can be considered a crime.
  • Not to resist arrest. That means no running. You are innocent until proven guilty; so don’t give a police officer any reason for suspicion. In some areas, running from a cop is considered resisting arrest. Resisting arrest also includes threatening a cop, struggling when being arrested, attacking a cop, and providing a fake ID.
  • Not to touch the officer. Not only is it a felony to touch a cop, you’re putting yourself at risk. You don’t want a cop to think you’re a threat to their safety.


Consider Unspoken Rules:

  • Move slowly. No matter the circumstance, avoid sudden movements or quick action. Society often associates cops with their media stereotypes: fearless, super-humans with guns and backup at the ready. In reality, the average civilian can’t understand the risks cops face every day. They are as human as the rest of us, and they are just as, if not more, wary of the each encounter. It’s not worth the risk to spook a cop. Try to show empathy.
  • Do not secretly record. If you’re recording a police encounter, it must be in the open. Openly recording police is legal, but secretly recording is not.
  • Be respectful. Even if you have a problem with the situation, being respectful to an officer when stopped is important.
  • Let yourself be handcuffed. Even if you feel it is unwarranted, let yourself be handcuffed if told you are under arrest. Struggling or arguing with a cop may be construed as resisting arrest.
  • Keep your hands visible. Even if you’re simply pulled over, keep your hands where the cop can see them. Even digging in your glove compartment before the officer asks to see your registration can put a police officer on guard.
  • Keep objects of attention out of plain sight. Even if they are legal, like prescription drugs medicine, certain objects are bound to provoke questions. Avoid the situation entirely by keeping your personal objects discrete.


It is always best to comply with the law enforcement as much as you can. You can always file a report later with the Internal Affairs Department if anything illegal or unfair happened. Though difficult to swallow, the fact is that the law is not on the side of civilians. The law firmly remains on the side of police officers. Police officers’ rights exceed our own, so it’s important to know what they are legally able to do as well.

Police officers are protected under federal law, state law, and department regulations.

Officers have the right to:

  • Lie. Cops are legally allowed to lie in situations where they need information or compliance.
  • Wield deadly force. This includes, including deadly force in implementing an arrest or preventing an escape from custody.
  • Take your stuff. Per the civil asset forfeiture, police can seize anything suspected to a part of a crime. In this case, cops must provide you a receipt of the items.
  • Use physical force to seize suspects. Keep in mind that judicial scrutiny doesn’t allow second-guessing of a cop’s judgment in the moment.
  • Frisk suspects. That means a cop can legally search you without a warrant with solid reasons.


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