ACLU: Here's what you should and shouldn't do if you're stopped by the police

We asked ACLU senior staff attorney Jason Williamson to lay out an individual’s rights, and the ACLU’s best advice for getting stopped by the police.


[JASON WILLIAMSON] If you’re asked for your name, you should provide it. If you’re asked for identification, you should provide it. Beyond that, you should say nothing more to the police other than asking whether or not you are free to leave.

If the police tell you that you are free to leave, then you should turn and walk away. Don’t run away. Just walk away. Calmly.

If the police tell you that you are not free to leave, then you know that you’re being detained, and at that point you want to make sure that you don’t say anything else to the police. There’s nothing good that can come out of it.

People want to explain themselves, they want to explain why they were doing whatever it is they were doing when they were stopped, or why the police are wrong for assuming they were engaged in illegal behaviour. Just say nothing. Whether you think you are in the right or not, it’s just not worth it to try to get into a conversation with a police officer to explain away your behaviour, because those are the very things that will be used against you in court.

You have to be aware of the circumstances around you, understand what’s happening, what time of day it is, who the officers are, how many of them are on the scene, because all of that’s gonna be important after the fact if anything happens to go wrong.

So, you never have to consent to a search, whether it’s a search of your person or of your car. If the police ask you for consent to search, you can simply say, “no, I do not give you consent.” You have to understand that if the police have probable cause to search you or to search your car, they’re not going to ask you for permission, and in fact, they won’t need to.

But, if they’re asking you for consent, that probably means that they don’t have enough evidence to search your car or to search you without your permission. And once you give consent, all bets are off.

Before you’re arrested, you don’t necessarily have a right to an attorney. That right only kicks in once they have placed you under arrest. If the police tell you, “yes, you’re under arrest,” the first thing that you want to do is ask to speak to an attorney.

Now, the police are supposed to read you your Miranda rights and tell you that you are entitled to an attorney and that anything you say can and will be used against you, but that may or may not happen.

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