What to do When Stopped by the Police

Let’s address an all too familiar scenario for citizens around the county: what do when stopped (either in your car, home, or walking the street) by an officer of the law.

Stay Calm: Overreacting to an officer stopping you can turn an otherwise innocuous interaction into a much more severe situation. Police have the right to briefly interact with you on the street for any reason or no reason at all, so long as this interaction does not turn into a situation in which you are not free to leave. Similarly, police have the right to pull you over for a multitude of reasons. The best policy is to simply comply with their instructions, remain courteous and professional, but as will be addressed later, you are under no obligation to consent to a search!

Police Stop Pic

Keep Hands Where Police Can See Them: Whether stopped on the street or in your vehicle or home, keeping your hands in an area where the police can see them will go a long way towards comforting the officer that you are not a threat. If stopped on the street or on your door step, resist the urge to put your hands in your pocket. If stopped in your vehicle, keep your hands on the steering wheel.

ASK: “Am I Free to Leave?”: Ask this question in a respectful manner after the officer has concluded his initial interaction. If the officer says yes, you may leave in calm manner. DO NOT initiate in conversation or argument with the officer for why he stopped you. If the officer says you are not free to leave, ask for the reason for the detention. You have a right to know why you are not free to leave. Additionally, if informed by the officer that you do not have the right to leave, you may and should invoke your right to remain silent in response to questions by the officer. And, as addressed next, ask for your lawyer.

Ask for an Attorney: If in doubt regarding whether or not you are under arrest, request an attorney. If you can establish you were under arrest and made a request for an attorney which was refused or ignored, this could be a key element in your defense.

Do Not Consent to a Search: You are under no legal obligation to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings, but you should not use physical force to resist arrest. Police do not need to inform you of your right to refuse to consent to a search, so you must state that you do not consent. Should you decide to consent to a search, evidence seized as a result of this search can be used against. Note, however, that police do have the right to pat you down without your consent if they suspect you’re concealing a weapon. Additionally, if you are in your car when stopped and police have reason to believe your car contains evidence of a crime, they can also search the vehicle without your consent.

Ask to See a Warrant Before Opening Your Door: A police officer may someday come knocking on your door. In most scenarios, unless they have a signed warrant in hand, you are under no obligation to allow them into your home.

Invoke Your Rights: Our Constitution provides that upon arrest, you have the right to remain silent in response to questions. You also have the right to talk to a lawyer before you talk to the police. IMPORTANTLY, you must affirmatively invoke both these rights. To protect your right to remain silent, state clearly “I am invoking my right to remain silent.” Regarding your right to an attorney, state emphatically “I want to speak to my lawyer, I am invoking my right to an attorney.” Say nothing else to the officers, except your name and address. This is no time for you to offer excuses or explanations. This can all be used against you later in court.

If you’ve been stopped by the police and are or may be facing criminal charges stemming from this interaction, the attorneys at Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell are here to help you navigate these complicated waters. Notably, both Michael Cassidy and Dennis Meakim are recognized in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for their skill in handling criminal law matters.

Legal Disclaimer: The contents of this website are intended solely for informational purposes. They neither constitute nor imply an official legal opinion on behalf of Howland, Hess, Guinan, Torpey, Cassidy and O’Connell nor do they establish an attorney-client relationship of any kind. Howland, Hess and O’Connell encourage all readers to seek and consult professional counsel before acting upon the information contained on this site.


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