Cop encounter check list


The Bill of Rights provides citizens basic protections against unlawful searches and seizures via the Fourth Amendment, protections against self incrimination via the Fifth Amendment, and the right to an attorney via the Sixth Amendment. On a theoretical level, most people probably know this but what does this mean on a practical level?

If the police pull you over, are you required to answer the officer’s questions if he hasn’t informed you of your right to remain silent? What does “probable cause” and “reasonable suspicion” mean when a police officer wants to search your vehicle and do you have a right to refuse the search? Should you consent to the search if you know you have nothing to hide? If the police knock on your front door, are you legally required to let them in if they don’t have a warrant? Are the police legally required to tell the truth or can they make false promises or otherwise trick you into waiving your constitutionally protected civil rights?

If you are unsure about the answers to these questions, don’t feel bad; I wasn’t too sure myself. The 4 part video series 10 Rules for Dealing with Police from the group that calls itself Flex Your Rights answers these questions and more in terms a lay person like myself can easily understand. Some of the advice is common sense (see rules 1, 7, & 8 below) while others are more legal in nature.

Whether you are a “law abiding citizen” who almost never has an encounter with the police or a “cop magnet,” this advice not only could keep you from being in serious legal trouble but also keep you from being beaten, tazered, or shot (if you follow these rules and these things still happen, you have more legal recourse against offending officers).

If you don’t have time to watch these videos right away, here are the 10 Rules for Dealing with Police in brief:

1. Always be calm and cool. [Don’t give the police any reason to act aggressively; they do have a very dangerous job and if they feel threatened they are more likely to act aggressively].

2. You [always] have the right to remain silent. [The best way to assert this right, especially if the police insist on questioning you is by asserting your Sixth Amendment right to legal council and KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT until your lawyer advises you otherwise].

3. You have the right to refuse searches. [Assert this right by calmly and politely telling the police officer “I don’t consent to searches”].

4. Don’t get tricked. [Yes, the police can legally lie to you and trick you into waiving your civil rights].

5. Determine if you are free to go. [Ask the officer: “Are you detaining me or am I free to go?”].

6. Don’t expose yourself. [Don’t do anything that might appear suspicious in public].

7. Don’t run. [Running from the police is never a good idea].

8. Never touch a cop. [The simplest touch of a police officer can be considered assault; don’t do it].

9. Report misconduct: be a good witness.

10. You don’t have to let them in. [You do not have to let the police in your home unless they have a search warrant or there is an emergency which requires immediate action on their part. If you allow them to enter, anything they might find that could incriminate you can be used against you because you unwittingly waived your Fourth Amendment rights].