New York City has seen its share of police shootings of unarmed individuals and those who die needlessly from their treatment by police while in custody. All legal issues aside, the primary goal of anyone being arrested by police is to survive the experience.
The American Civil Liberties Union has prepared a guide for citizens to be aware of their rights when questioned or detained by police so they can better protect themselves.
When a policeman stops you on the street, you are under no obligation to answer questions and can state that “I donot want to talk to you” while walking away. Another tactic is to ask the officer, “Am I free to go?” If affirmative, walk away calmly and never run.
Sometimes, the police may say that while you are not free to go, you are not under arrest either. This means you are being “detained,” which is often a precursor to being arrested.
While being detained, the cops can pat you down if they have a reasonable suspicion that you might have a weapon. More involved searches require either a warrant or your consent. You should clearly state, “I do not consent to a search.” Physically resisting them if they continue anyway is futile and could get you seriously injured or even killed.
If you are stopped by police in your car, show them your hands and make slow movements when reaching for proof of insurance coverage, license and registration. Remain in your vehicle, along with any passengers, unless asked by police to step out.
Sometimes, police will separate the driver and passengers and question them, hoping to discover discrepancies in their stories that could result in an arrest or probable cause for a search. Nobody is compelled to answer these questions.
Searching a car can lead to charges being brought against you. It is inadvisable to give consent for a search. Police may allege they had probable cause because they believed criminal acts were taking place in the car or it or the driver was associated with a crime or evidence of one. A good defense attorney can challenge any evidence resulting from a search of that nature.
As soon as possible after an arrest, ask to speak to an attorney to safeguard your rights.
Source: American Civil Liberties Union, “Know your rights when encountering law enforcement” Dec. 25, 2014