This post spawns from the numerous threads about law enforcement and people's rights being violated, real or imagined. It is my desire to help you
understand your rights when dealing with an officer and also how to deal with officers in general. I cannot speak for other countries other than the
US as most the state's laws are very similar and we all use case law from the other states to help us interpret our own laws. Also, I cannot speak for
every situation, but will try to address the most common ones, i.e. traffic stops, license checks, street interviews.
The most common place that you are going be confronted by an officer is at a traffic stop. There are numerous reasons for a traffic stop and they
break down into two categories: Probable cause and reasonable suspicion.
Probable cause: This is used to stop you when a law is actually broken. For example; failure to stop for a red light, headlamp out, speeding, etc.
Reasonable suspicion: This is used to stop you when an officer sees things that makes him believe that a law is being broken and he wants to
investigate. For example; swerving, seeing you lift a brown bag to your lips, your car matches the description of one used in another crime, etc.
These two categories are used for all areas of law enforcement and investigations.
When you are stopped by an officer you have to assume that he had a valid reason, otherwise a halfway decent attorney will get the case thrown out of
court and the officer looks like an idiot and his reputation in the courtroom starts to dwindle. He cannot afford this because it is a career
Your rights when stopped: First, you must realize that driving is a privilege not a right. You must produce a valid driver’s license, proof of
insurance, and vehicle registration upon request. The officer will usually run your license number through your state’s system and if this is a
reasonable suspicion stop and nothing else is amiss usually that will be the end of it. If it is a probable cause stop, then he may or may not write
you a citation at his discretion. Your rights against unreasonable search and seizure are in place. The officer may ask you for a “consent search”
which is just that, one done with your consent. If he ask to search your car he may not use the word consent, he may just say that he would like to
search your car. You have the right to refuse, even if you give consent, you have the right to say stop at any point during the search unless the
officer has found something that gives him the right to continue without your permission. If you do refuse a search and the officer has a good reason
to detain you he can do so for a reasonable amount of time depending on what he believes he is going to find. If he is looking for drugs, then he will
probably just call for a K-9 to sniff around your car. If it is something more serious, like a large quantity of drugs or stolen property he may see
the magistrate for a search warrant which may take an hour or two. If this is the case he had better turn up something good or his credibility is
Now, what if you run into the super trooper that doesn’t care about your rights, and we all know that they are out there. If you run into this
individual, do what he says and be polite. Note his name and his badge number and any other identifying features. After you have calmed down write out
a complete statement of the events including dates, times, and all that was said. Use his chain of command or Internal affairs division to report him.
Even though you may be pissed off this is the proper way to go about it. If this idiot will violate your rights, then arguing with him on the side of
the road is a bad idea. You could end up getting tazed or worse.
If the officer ask you to step out of the car, follow the instructions. He may want to pat you down for weapons for his own safety; this is his right
and is granted by law. If you are not asked to get out of the car, stay in the car. When you get out of the car the officer may view this as an act of
aggression and tell you to get back in your car, do so. Remember, you know your intentions, he doesn’t.
Keep your responses to a simple yes or no. Remember, what you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. If you have done no wrong this
should not be a problem.
What if you have broken the law? Perhaps there’s a roach or some seeds in your car’s ashtray. If you are caught, be honest. This goes a long way.
Remember, this is very important; if the cop ask you questions before he arrest you, he is not required to give you your Miranda warning. If he arrest
you and does not ask you questions while you are under arrest, then he is not required to give you your Miranda warning. Arrest and questioning have
to exist at the same time for Miranda to be required. Anything you say without being asked is called spontaneous utterances and can be used against
Getting along with the officer:
There are more cocky officers with bad attitudes than there are good ones. There are many reasons for this but one of the biggest is fear. That’s
right…fear. The officer must feel that he/she is in control of the situation and that you view him in a position of authority. If not, he is out of
control and this is a scary situation for him. So to compensate for this fear he develops the cocky attitude. The problem is that most officers cannot
differentiate between the circumstances that need this attitude and the ones that do not. In other words, if the officer just came from a fight at the
bar where he needed all the control that he could muster and then stops you for running a stop sign, he may find it hard to make the transition. This
is not an excuse, but it is a fact.
Your job is to put the officer at ease. Be polite. Keep your hands out of your pockets. Look the officer in the eye when you speak to him. Even if the
officer smarts off to you, do not retaliate. This brings about what we call “contempt of cop”. When the less experienced officer is confronted by
someone with superior intellect he may resort to a more aggressive response, such as verbal abuse or arrest. If the cop is unprofessional, you be the
professional, do not drop to his level.
There is much more to say on this subject but I will stop here. Maybe myself or others can answer questions about specific situations. Thanks for
edit on 13-1-2011 by seeashrink because: spacing