The U.S. Constitution provides all citizens with certain unassailable rights. Law enforcement must respect these rights, even when stopping or arresting a person. Unfortunately, many police officers do not take the rights of citizens seriously, with sometimes tragic results.
While it is not your responsibility to ensure police do their job correctly, understanding your rights allows you to identify wrongdoing. As explained by the ACLU, it is best to comply with police commands even when treated unfairly. You can take steps to file complaints and hold the law enforcement official accountable for their actions after your release from police custody.
What to do when stopped by the police
At a minimum, you may be obligated to provide your name to the officer who’s stopped you. However, you do not have to answer questions about where you are coming from, where you are going, where you were born, or whether you are a U.S. citizen. You can invoke your right to remain silent at any time, and it is usually in your best interest to do so. Police can search your person if there is probable cause, but you do not have to consent to a search under other circumstances. It is best to clearly object to the search.
What to do when pulled over
All motorists have an obligation to present license, registration, and proof of insurance when pulled over by the police. You have the right to remain silent when it comes to other questions, such as your prior whereabouts or where you are traveling to. Within your vehicle, it is best to use slow, deliberate movements while keeping your hands in full view of the officer. If you are reaching for documents stored in the glove box, announce your intentions and do so slowly. If you are a passenger, you can ask to leave the scene provided you are not under arrest.
What to do when arrested
You do not have to answer questions after your arrest without an attorney present. If you cannot afford an attorney, you must receive free legal assistance. You are also permitted one phone call while arrested. While law enforcement cannot listen in if you are speaking to an attorney, they can listen in if you are calling friends or family. You do not have to sign any document or make any statements until you consult with your attorney.