Knowing Your Rights & Asserting Them Respectfully When Interacting with Law Enforcement
There has been a lot (understatement) of news in the past few months and years, about destructive conflicts between the police and the citizens they are intended to serve. The stories are devastating and raise provocative questions about racial bias, abuse of power, and the multi-sided nature of any event. Unfortunately, dear reader, I don’t have enough room in this article or mental bandwidth, to do an in-depth analysis of the cause and effect, while offering a well thought out and effective answer to the problem. Minds far superior to mine have failed to offer a simple solution to this multi-faceted issue and I am aware enough to understand just how much I don’t understand.
What I can and will do is give you a practical guide to interacting with police officers in the current climate. This is not intended to be an endorsement of the status quo, but since we all have to continue to live in this environment while the overarching issues are being addressed, it is my hope that this information will help keep people safe.
A few things that the police can always make you do:
- You are required to provide identification if you have it, and if you don’t, you must provide correct identifying information about yourself. If you lie to a police officer your information they can charge you with False Information.
- If asked, you are required to exit the car. You cannot refuse to get out of the car if you are involved in a lawful traffic stop.
- If asked, you are required to tell police if you have a deadly weapon or firearm in your vehicle. To be on the safe side, I would inform police as soon as possible and in the least threatening way that you have a weapon in the vehicle.
A few things you can always decline:
- Consent searches. There is a very high and complicated burden the police must meet in order to search you, your vehicle, or you home, without your consent. Even if you have nothing to hide, protect your right to privacy by politely declining a search.
- Voluntary statement. The police can ask you questions, but you do not have to volunteer additional information and you can refuse to answer incriminating questions. You’d be surprised how many people admit to things, even things they aren’t being investigate for, because they don’t realize they can say no or ask to speak to an attorney. (Note: your official right to counsel and silence does not come into play until after you’ve been arrested.)
- Field Sobriety Tests (FST). FSTs are on scene tests the police do to determine impairment (Walk & Turn, Finger to Nose, HGN, Etc.). These tests focus on o mobility, coordination, and perception. If you are stopped for suspicion of a DUI, you can always refuse to participate in FSTs.
- Portable Breath Test (PBT). A PBT is a portable breathalyzer that attempts to test BAC. However, the PBT is inaccurate and inadmissible in court. The only purpose of a PBT is to help police establish the necessary probably cause to arrest you. If you are asked to blow into a PBT, you can always refuse. Do not however, confuse this with the blood draw or breathalyzer at the station/mobile DUI center. If you refuse the blood draw or breathalyzer after you’ve been arrested, you will lose your license for a year.
The best advice I can offer is that when interacting with police, be as respectful as possible, they have power and while I don’t believe that generally police are looking for ways to abuse that power, it is best to respect the authority they yield. If you think your rights are being violated or you’re not sure whether you can say no, ask, in a non-aggressive way. The key is addressing the police in a way that does not escalate the situation.
* As with many things in the law, there are exceptions to exceptions, and this is not a comprehensive review of your rights when interacting with police. If you have an issue, always consult with an attorney.