Tips for Dealing with Law Enforcement

Seattle police officers wearing riot gear guard a Starbucks coffee shop during May Day demonstrations in Seattle

1. The Right to be Free from Search

The Fourth Amendment guarantees our right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. This right applies to all persons whether walking, driving, riding a bike, sitting at home or even standing around in a public space. The 4th amendment was written to protect individuals from police and law enforcement agents. That means police can not search you, or arrest you without a warrant, or without evidence that you are involved in a crime. One way police often get around the warrant requirement is by asking if you will agree to a search of your vehicle, bag, home or other property. Know that you always have the right to refuse a search, and you should exercise that right with confidence, knowing that state and federal law support you in asserting that right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. If an officer asks if he/she can search you, your car or your property, simply say “No, I do not consent to searches.” Repeat as needed because they can be very persistent.

2. The Right to be Free from Seizure

The Fourth Amendment also protects individuals from police who may try to arrest or detain you without legal justification. Police can be intimidating, but remember that the law is on your side and is there to protect you. When officers stop you on the street and want to question you, you can quickly terminate that police encounter by asking the question: “Officer are you detaining me, or am I free to go?” At that point, if the officer says you are not being detained, then just walk away, because that is your right, and the officer knows that. When police question you, that usually means they don’t already have enough evidence to detain you, and most likely they’re fishing for anything they can use against you or someone you know. Be smart, don’t stand there and provide info that can later be used against you or someone else in court. Quit while you’re ahead, and keep your mouth shut.

3. Your Right to Remain Silent, Shut Your Mouth and Stay Out of Trouble

Everyone who’s watched a cop show has heard the phrase: “you have the right to remain silent, anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.” Despite hearing that phrase repeatedly, many people are all too eager to speak to police whenever they are asked to do so. If you are being questioned about possible criminal conduct, you’re best response is always: “I choose to remain silent, I’d like to speak with a lawyer.” You may have to repeat that sentence several times, because the police will most likely continue to ask you questions and try to get you to change your mind. Be firm, and remember that the law is on your side, and remind them that you will remain silent, and would like to speak to a lawyer. Cops are allowed to lie to you, so don’t be tricked by false threats or promises, don’t give up your right to remain silent, be firm, and shut your mouth. If cops are questioning you, that often means they don’t have enough evidence against you, shut your mouth and don’t give it to them.

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