What to do if you are stopped or arrested by police

It is important to know your rights if you are stopped by a police or immigration officer or if you are arrested by police. If you are questioned by law enforcement, be polite and respectful. Never lie, argue, resist, or run away.

police car in USA
Photo courtesy of Dave Conner/Wikimedia Commons

Fl-Istati Uniti, the police are generally good and want to help you. But you should know your rights. You have rights even if you are not a US citizen. You should know that law enforcement officers may briefly hold and question you if they suspect you were involved in a crime. They might do this even if there are not enough reasons to arrest you.

Your rights if you are stopped in a car or arrested by police while in a car

  • You have the right to remain silent and not answer any questions.
  • When receiving a citation (a ticket for speeding, pereżempju) you must provide your driver’s license, insurance, and vehicle registration if requested.
  • The officer can ask you to step out of the car. You should do what they ask.
  • Police are not allowed to check the car unless there is “probable cause.”
  • You do not have the right to leave if the officer tells you to stay.
  • A pat down is typically a surface search done over your clothes. It can happen if the officer has a reason to believe there is something suspicious happening, but he or she cannot go through your pockets. In a search, they have a more thorough method where they might search under your clothes. You are legally allowed to refuse both of them.

Your rights if you are arrested by police or taken to a police station

  • If you are arrested by police, you have the right to remain silent and talk to a lawyer.
  • You are allowed to make 3 phone calls within 3 hours of getting arrested.
  • You can tell the police basic information about yourself but no more until your lawyer arrives.
  • Don’t discuss your immigrant status with anyone but your lawyer.

Your rights if a police officer wants to search your home or car

  • Law enforcement is not allowed to search your home without your consent or a search warrant. A warrant is a legal document that gives them permission to search. If you are away from home, the police can search your home if some else consents to it.
  • You should not let an officer enter your home unless they have a warrant.
  • The warrant should be signed by a judge.
  • If an officer insists on entering without a warrant, do not resist. You can say that you do not allow it, then immediately call a lawyer.

The Supreme Court only allows a law enforcement officer to enter a house without knocking if they have “a reasonable suspicion”. This means that they think something illegal might be happening. They also think that showing they are there might be dangerous or might allow the suspect to destroy any evidence.

For more information to help you understand your rights, tista' read ourknow your rightsinformation. It was prepared in partnership with Church World Services, which offers low-cost legal services to immigrants.

Questions and answers about being detained or arrested by police

Here are some answers to questions you may have about being stopped or arrested.

Do I have to answer questions asked by law enforcement?

You have a constitutional right to remain silent so you do not need to answer questions. You do not have to talk to any officers or anyone else. It is a good idea to talk to a lawyer before answering any questions. Tell the police officer you choose not to answer. But always be respectful and polite as much as possible.

How should I behave if I am stopped in my car?

Try to move slowly and make sure you always keep your hands visible to the officer. Don’t physically resist a pat down or search. Instead say, “I do not consent to a search.” Ask the officer if you are free to leave, and if the officer says yes, then leave calmly. Madankollu, if the officer says no, you must stay. Never run away, and keep your hands visible all the time.

What if I am treated badly by law enforcement officers?

You have the right to ask the officer for his information such as his name and badge number. Try to find witnesses and if you are injured take pictures as soon as possible. Call a lawyer or your local human rights protection office.

Do I have to show my immigration documents if I am arrested by police?

Non-citizens who are 18 years or older should carry their documents with them at all times. If you are undocumented and cannot show US immigration documents, you can choose not to answer questions about your status. These questions might include “Are you a citizen?” or, "Fejn huma inti minn?” Do not lie about your status, but say instead that you choose not to answer.

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