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What to Do When You are Stopped by the Police

What to Do When You are Stopped by the Police

There is no question that interacting with police officers can be stressful. These interactions also have the potential to escalate. The best way you and your loved ones can stay protected is by being aware of your rights and what is and is not legal in these circumstances.

Below, we discuss what to do if you are stopped, arrested, or questioned during an encounter with the police.

General Rights

In general, staying calm and peaceful in your interactions with police is advisable, as well as being aware of the following:

  • If requested, you can provide your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance
  • Police can ask questions based on reasonable suspicion but, in general, cannot conduct a search unless there is a warrant or an exception present, as discussed in greater detail below
  • Note that you have the right to remain silent, and everything that you say can be used against you. Where questions arise, you should ask if you are under arrest or free to leave. If you are under arrest, do not make any statements and ask to speak with an attorney right away
  • In general, law enforcement cannot conduct a search without a search warrant, and this requires a judge’s order and probable cause. You do not have to consent to a search of your property or yourself. Also, know that if you do provide that consent to a search, it can negatively affect your case if you are eventually prosecuted for a crime
  • If you are suspected of drunk driving and police ask you to take a breath-alcohol or coordination test: If you fail the test, you will be arrested, and if you refuse to take the test, your driver’s license may be suspended
  • If you have concerns about police conduct, gather as much information as possible about the circumstances: Police officer badge numbers and names, witness information, photos, etc.

Search and Seizure

Note that there are also some exceptions to the general rule that police cannot perform a search and seizure, including the following:

  • If the police arrest you, they can conduct a search of your person and your property – the car and everyone in it is fair game. In a home, they can conduct a sweep but not rummage through your belongings – they can only search around the arm span of the individual being arrested
  • If an individual is not being arrested, but there is evidence that a car contains evidence of a crime, they can search reasonable areas of the car where that evidence can be found (for example, if a TV was stolen, they could not search the glove compartment, but could arguably search the trunk)
  • Police can search your person if they believe you are armed and dangerous, and this can extend to the car if it is possible that weapons are there
  • If you or someone else who represents themselves as having authority provides consent to search your belongings (for example, someone driving your car or living in your home)
  • Any illegal items that are in plain view (provided the police are allowed to be there in the first place where they are in plain view)
  • If there are emergency circumstances present, whereby there is a risk that someone could be hurt or evidence could be destroyed

If the police have a warrant, they can enter your home without your permission. Always ask to see the warrant if you are present.

Columbus, Ohio, Civil Rights Attorneys

If you or a loved one has questions or concerns about civil rights violations, police brutality, and malicious prosecution, contact our Columbus, Ohio, civil rights attorneys today for a free consultation to find out how we can help.

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