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What to do when Stopped by Police on the Street

Being stopped by a police officer can be a stressful and frightening experience. The following is a list of suggestions on how to handle when you are stopped for questioning by police in order to preserve both your safety and your constitutional rights.

  • Always stay calm and do not obstruct the police. By staying calm and keeping your hands where police can see them, you are indicating to the officers that you are not a danger to them, and you are helping to prevent the situation from escalating into violence. Even if you believe that the officers are violating your rights, keep calm: If you interfere with an officer's actions, you can also be charged with the crime of obstructing a police officer.
  • Ask the officers if you are free to leave. If the officers indicate that you are free to leave, remain silent and walk--don't run--away. If the officers indicate that you are not free to leave, you have a right to know why you are under arrest.
  • Remain silent. In some states, you may have to give your name when asked to identify yourself. Other than this, you do not have to speak to police. Tell the officer out loud that you are exercising your right to remain silent, and then refrain from speaking.
  • Officers may "pat down" your clothing without your permission. This is called a Terry stop, and is allowed so police may ensure that you are not carrying a concealed weapon. Allow the officer to do so, but tell the officer that you do not consent to any further search. If you consent to a search, you typically cannot challenge the legality of the search later in court.
  • If you are arrested, ask for a lawyer immediately. You have a right to consult with a lawyer. If you cannot afford one, the government must provide one to you. Do not speak with police until you have spoken with your lawyer. Having the help of an experienced criminal defense lawyer on your side increases your probability of a successful outcome to your case.

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