With the highly publicized incidents of police shootings over the past couple of years, many people have questions about exactly they must act when they encounter the police. There are basic rights everyone has, however it must be recognized that each interaction may unfold differently.
The general rule of thumb is to keep calm and obey the directions of the police. Bad feelings and issues may be sorted out later but you cannot take back a life if an interaction with the police escalates to the point of deadly force.
Q1: Can a police officer stop me if I’m walking down the street?
A1: It is within your right to refuse to speak to or stop for the police. However, if an officer believes that you are behaving suspiciously, they have the authority to detain you for the purposes of an investigation.
Q2: If I am stopped by the police, do they have to read me my rights before I answer any questions?
A2: No. If you are being placed under arrest, the police are required to read you your Miranda Rights. They are not required to read you your rights during traffic stops or encounters on the street.
Q3: Do the police have the right to search me?
A3: It depends on the circumstances. If the police reasonably believe that you may have been involved in a crime, this gives them probable cause to legally search you. If a police officer asks permission to search you or your property (ex. a vehicle) and you give permission, then that is considered voluntary consent to search. The police may also search you or your property if they have a warrant.
Q4: May I record a police encounter?
A4: This varies by jurisdiction. In the District of Columbia, it is legal to record police officers carrying out their duties in public as long as it does not interfere with official police business.
Q5: If a police officer orders me to get out of my vehicle, do I have to comply?
A5: Yes. The police have the right to ask you and any passengers to get out of your vehicle. If you believe they violated your rights, remain calm during the interaction and follow-up later at the closest police station and file a formal complaint with a police supervisor.
L.J. Follow me on Twitter: @CrimeDoc1213
Flyouth. (2005). SE youth and the police [Pamphlet]. Washington, DC: Facilitating Leadership in Youth.
Grisham, L. & Hargro, T. (2015, July 24). Your rights during police encounters. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2015/07/22/rights-during-police-encounters/30539255