Know Your Rights When Interacting with Police

By Jordan D. Howlette, J.D., M.B.A.
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“I have nothing to hide, so I have nothing to worry about.”

This is one of the most common thoughts people have about interacting with the police, but it’s also been famously proven wrong time and time again. Whether or not you have something to hide (and regardless of your immigration or citizenship status), you have constitutional rights that must be upheld whenever you’re interacting with police in Maryland, D.C. Virginia, Massachusetts, or any other region in the United States.

The surest way to protect your rights is to know your rights. While we aren’t here to say the police are inherently bad, they are trained on tactics to draw evidence, confessions, and incriminating information even when there seemingly is none.

If You Are Free to Go, Go!

There is no law that says you must interact with police when you aren’t being detained. You have a right to walk away and go about your business without being held up by police, and your decision to invoke this right is not admissible in court.

Whenever the police approach you about an “investigation,” ask if you are free to go. If you are told that you are not being detained, then take the opportunity to walk away. If the police do tell you you’re being detained, however, refuse to speak a single word until you are able to speak with an attorney. Remember, they are professionally trained in interrogation techniques and will push and push to get answers out of you that you do not owe them.

Do Not Consent to Unlawful or Voluntary Searches

Circling back to the “I have nothing to hide” concept: You don’t have anything to hide but are you 100% sure a friend or loved one didn’t leave something behind? Are you willing to take the risk that police may plant evidence?

The police need a warrant or, in some cases, reasonable suspicion to conduct any type of search of your personal property. This includes your pockets, your vehicle, your home, and any other private space you occupy. If an officer asks you to submit to a search without a warrant or reasonable suspicion, simply say “I do not consent to a search” and hold that line. We’ve seen individuals think they have nothing to hide just to find out a friend accidentally left behind drug paraphernalia or other illegal items.

How Should I Respond If My Rights Are Being Violated?

We could quadruple the length of this article talking about the various rights you are owed during police interactions, but the truth is some officers do not care and will not stop even when you handle the situation perfectly. This is especially true for individuals in marginalized communities who are often profiled and targeted by law enforcement. So, what do you do when police are violating your civil rights and either conducting an illegal search or illegally detaining you without reason? The answer is to keep calm as best as you can.

Many people will react to an illegal search or detention with violence and aggression. We’re here to tell you this puts your life at risk. Police have killed people purely on the premise of “resisting arrest,” so it’s best to follow any orders being given to you and remain silent. The truth is you could be owed significant financial damages when your civil rights are violated. This doesn’t heal the trauma you’re experiencing or replace the peace of mind you may have had prior to the incident, but it’s the road better traveled vs. compounding the situation with violence.

Talk to an Attorney BEFORE Talking to the Police

The answer to all interactions with the police is to ask for an attorney or call your attorney. Leaders of our country and our communities put their lives on the line to establish, protect, and uphold our civil rights. Civil rights attorneys exist to defend your rights when police and other entities violate those rights, whether intentionally or unintentionally.

Justly Prudent is the civil rights arm of JD Howlette Law. If you feel like your rights have been violated by police in D.C., Maryland, Virginia, Massachusetts, or Florida contact Justly Prudent immediately to learn about your rights and the ways in which we may be able to assist with defending you, your future, and your financial security.