What to do if you're stopped by the police

from the ACLUbustcard”: http://www.aclu.org/pdf/bustcard.pdf

Be polite and respectful. Never bad-mouth a police officer.

Stay calm and in control of your words, body language and emotions.

Don't get into an argument with the police.

Remember, anything you say or do can be used against you.

Keep your hands where the police can see them.

Don't run. Don't touch any police officer.

Don't resist even if you believe you are innocent.

Don't complain on the scene or tell the police they're wrong or that you're going to file a complaint.

Do not make any statements regarding the incident. Ask for a lawyer immediately upon your arrest.

Remember officers' badge & patrol car numbers.

Write down everything you remember ASAP.

Try to find witnesses & their names & phone numbers.

If you are injured, take photographs of the injuries as soon as possible, but make sure you seek medical attention first.

If you feel your rights have been violated, file a written complaint with police department's internal affairs division or civilian complaint board.


1. What you say to the police is always important. What you say can be used against you, and it can give the police an excuse to arrest you, especially if you bad-mouth a police officer.

2. You don't have to answer a police officer's questions, but you must show your driver's license and registration when stopped in a car. In other situations, you can't legally be arrested for refusing to identify yourself to a police officer.

3. You don't have to consent to any search of yourself, your car or your house. If you DO consent to a search, it can affect your rights later in court. If the police say they have a search warrant, ASK TO SEE IT.

4. Do not interfere with, or obstruct the police -- you can be arrested for it.


1. It's not a crime to refuse to answer questions, but refusing to answer can make the police suspicious about you. You can't be arrested merely for refusing to identify yourself on the street.

2. Police may "pat-down" your clothing if they suspect a concealed weapon. Don't physically resist, but make it clear that you don't consent to any further search.

3. Ask if you are under arrest. If you are, you have a right to know why.

4. Don't bad-mouth the police officer or run away, even if you believe what is happening is unreasonable. That could lead to your arrest.


1. Upon request, show them your driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. In certain cases, your car can be searched without a warrant as long as the police have probable cause. To protect yourself later, you should make it clear that you do not consent to a search. It is not lawful for police to arrest you simply for refusing to consent to a search.

2. If you're given a ticket, you should sign it; otherwise you can be arrested. You can always fight the case in court later.

3. If you're suspected of drunk driving (DWI) and refuse to take a blood, urine or breath test, your driver's license may be suspended.


1. You have the right to remain silent and to talk to a lawyer before you talk to the police. Tell the police nothing except your name and address. Don't give any explanations, excuses or stories. You can make your defense later, in court, based on what you and your lawyer decide is best.

2. Ask to see a lawyer immediately. If you can't pay for a lawyer, you have a right to a free one, and should ask the police how the lawyer can be contacted. Don't say anything without a lawyer.

3. Within a reasonable time after your arrest, or booking, you have the right to make a local phone call: to a lawyer, bail bondsman, a relative or any other person. The police may not listen to the call to the lawyer.

4. Sometimes you can be released without bail, or have bail lowered. Have your lawyer ask the judge about this possibility. You must be taken before the judge on the next court day after arrest.

5. Do not make any decisions in your case until you have talked with a lawyer.


1. If the police knock and ask to enter your home, you don't have to admit them unless they have a warrant signed by a judge.

2. However, in some emergency situations (like when a person is screaming for help inside, or when the police are chasing someone) officers are allowed to enter and search your home without a warrant.

3. If you are arrested, the police can search you and the area close by. If you are in a building, "close by" usually means just the room you are in.

We all recognize the need for effective law enforcement, but we should also understand our own rights and responsibilities -- especially in our relationships with the police. Everyone, including minors, has the right to courteous and respectful police treatment.

If your rights are violated, don't try to deal with the situation at the scene. You can discuss the matter with an attorney afterwards, or file a complaint with the Internal Affairs or Civilian Complaint Board.

Produced by the American Civil Liberties Union.

There are a number of sources of information available to tell you what you should do when being stopped by the police. One that has been refered to in the E2 context is the ACLU "bustcard": http://www.aclu.org/Files/OpenFile.cfm?id=10042 Most others are similar.

In many respects these provide very good advice. In the following I'll just refer to the "bustcard". It tells you that you should always talk to a lawyer before talking to police and outlines a number of rights that you may or may not have in your jurisdiction.

That is the point I would make here. REMEMBER, your jurisdiction may differ!! see YMMV ;)

I would recommend to you that you find out what your rights are in your area rather than go straight from this card. I'll give you a few examples from my experience to back this up.

Firstly the above "bustcard" states that you cannot be arrested for refusing to give your name and address, however in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) you can be. If a police officer has reasonable grounds to believe that you have information in respect to an offence (i.e. you were a witness to someone being naughty) you MUST provide your name and address if requested. If you don't you are committing an offence and may be arrested. This is to ensure all relevant witnesses appear before court when a person is defending themselves.

One of the reasons for arresting a person in the ACT when committing an offence is that you can't guarantee their appearance before court, if you don't know who they are or where they live you can't summons them.

Another example where the bustcard doesn't always pan out is that in the ACT you do not have the right to a phone call. If the police officers are in a good mood, or you are being reasonable you will usually receive one if you ask, however if you've made them run I don't rate your chances ;)

The above also relates to the opportunity to speak to a lawyer. If you've been charged and arrested and don't wish to talk to police then they don't have to let you talk to a lawyer until just before your court appearance (which will be first thing the next morning if it isn't that day). They will generally let you if you wish though, it makes everyone's life easier.

When it comes to your home it is definitely a case of your house is your castle. For most things in the ACT, such as arrest, search of the person and other things, a police officer needs only have suspicion. To enter your home an officer needs belief. However they don't need to be chasing someone to come in as the bustcard would suggest. If they believe that an offender is in a premises they can enter to arrest them. For example if every time you escape custody you run to your mamma's house and hide there it is very likely that the next time it happens your mamma's door may get a knock that's less than subtle.

I suppose the point I'm trying to get across here is that you should always be careful that you actually have a right before you tell a police officer they can't do something. You may be wrong!

As someone who's seen the ins and outs of a few arrests I would suggest that the best thing you can ever do when dealing with a police officer in a stressful situation is do what you are told. If you don't think it's fair or right you can do something about it later. Most police departments these days take complaints very seriously. If you start to argue or badmouth then you'll probably find your situation getting worse not better, even if you're right.

It may not be good or fair but it's life.

Hope that helped and wasn't just a plain old rant ;)

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