Gunnery Network
Gunnery Network

What to do if you're stopped by The Police

To fight police abuse effectively you need to know your rights. There are some things you should do, some things you must do and some things you cannot do. If you are in the middle of a police encounter, you need a handy and quick reference to remind you what your rights and obligations are.

That's why the ACLU is making these tips available as a downloadable .pdf file. You can photocopy this and carry it in your wallet, pocket or glove compartment to give you quick access to your rights and obligations concerning police encounters.

  • Be polite and respectful. Never bad-mouth a police officer.
  • Stay calm and in control of your words, body language and emotions.
  • Don't get into an argument with the police.
  • Remember, anything you say or do can be used against you.
  • Keep your hands where the police can see them.
  • Don't run. Don't touch any police officer.
  • Don't resist even if you believe you are innocent.
  • Don't complain on the scene or tell the police they're wrong or that you're going to file a complaint.
  • Do not make any statements regarding the incident.
  • Ask for a lawyer immediately upon your arrest.
  • Remember officers' badge & patrol car numbers.
  • Write down everything you remember ASAP.
  • Try to find witnesses & their names & phone numbers.
  • If you are injured, take photographs of the injuries as soon as possible, but make sure you seek medical attention first.
  • If you feel your rights have been violated, file a written complaint with police department's internal affairs division or civilian complaint board.


1. What you say to the police is always
important. What you say can be used against
you, and it can give the police an excuse to
arrest you, especially if you bad-mouth a police

2. You don't have to answer a police officer's
questions, but you must show your driver's
license and registration when stopped in a car.
In other situations, you can't legally be arrested
for refusing to identify yourself to a police

3. You don't have to consent to any search of
yourself, your car or your house. If you DO
consent to a search, it can affect your rights later
in court. If the police say they have a search
warrant, ASK TO SEE IT.

4. Do not interfere with, or obstruct the police --
you can be arrested for it.


1. It's not a crime to refuse to answer questions,
but refusing to answer can make the police
suspicious about you. You can't be arrested
merely for refusing to identify yourself on the

2. Police may "pat-down" your clothing if they
suspect a concealed weapon. Don't physically
resist, but make it clear that you don't consent to
any further search.

3. Ask if you are under arrest. If you are, you
have a right to know why.

4. Don't bad-mouth the police officer or run
away, even if you believe what is happening is
unreasonable. That could lead to your arrest.


1. Upon request, show them your driver's license,
registration, and proof of insurance. In certain
cases, your car can be searched without a
warrant as long as the police have probable
cause. To protect yourself later, you should make
it clear that you do not consent to a search. It is
not lawful for police to arrest you simply for
refusing to consent to a search.

2. If you're given a ticket, you should sign it;
otherwise you can be arrested. You can always
fight the case in court later.

3. If you're suspected of drunk driving (DWI) and
refuse to take a blood, urine or breath test, your
driver's license may be suspended.


1. You have the right to remain silent and to talk
to a lawyer before you talk to the police. Tell the
police nothing except your name and address.
Don't give any explanations, excuses or stories.
You can make your defense later, in court, based
on what you and your lawyer decide is best.

2. Ask to see a lawyer immediately. If you can't
pay for a lawyer, you have a right to a free one,
and should ask the police how the lawyer can be
contacted. Don't say anything without a

3. Within a reasonable time after your arrest, or
booking, you have the right to make a local
phone call: to a lawyer, bail bondsman, a
relative or any other person. The police may not
listen to the call to the lawyer.

4. Sometimes you can be released without bail,
or have bail lowered. Have your lawyer ask the
judge about this possibility. You must be taken
before the judge on the next court day after

5. Do not make any decisions in your case until
you have talked with a lawyer.


1. If the police knock and ask to enter your
home, you don't have to admit them unless they
have a warrant signed by a judge.

2. However, in some emergency situations (like
when a person is screaming for help inside, or
when the police are chasing someone) officers
are allowed to enter and search your home
without a warrant.

3. If you are arrested, the police can search you
and the area close by. If you are in a building,
"close by" usually means just the room you are in.

We all recognize the need for effective law
enforcement, but we should also understand our
own rights and responsibilities -- especially in
our relationships with the police. Everyone,
including minors, has the right to courteous and
respectful police treatment.

If your rights are violated, don't try to deal with
the situation at the scene. You can discuss the
matter with an attorney afterwards, or file a
complaint with the Internal Affairs or Civilian
Complaint Board.

Produced by the American Civil Liberties Union.