Flex Your Rights: 10 Rules of dealing with Police

If you need to speak to an officer while driving, on the street or at your home, there are 10 rules you should know to protect yourself and to protect your rights — knowing these rules can prevent fines and unnecessary interactions with police.

I learned these rules in a presentation last night from “Flex Your Rights“, which was given by the  ACLU of Penn State.

Because I’m not a lawyer, nor am I qualified to advise legal distinctions within the court, consider this break-down a reference that you can study on your own.  You should not use these 10 rules as a defense in court, but merely a guideline to handle contact with police to avoid speaking with them.

  1. Always be calm and cool.
  2. You have the right to remain silent.
  3.  You have the right to refuse searches.
  4. Don’t get tricked into waiving your rights.
  5. Determine if you’re free to go.
  6. Don’t do anything illegal.
  7. Don’t run.
  8. Never touch a cop.
  9. Report misconduct: Be a good witness.
  10. You don’t have to let them in.

1: Always be calm and cool.

The worst thing you can do when you’re in a situation with police is give them any reason to believe you’re being aggressive.  No one likes being pulled over, but they have a job to do and for the officers that work to protect us deserve that respect.

Just be cooperative with them politely but remember to remain assertive if your rights to privacy are in danger.

If an officer stops you while driving, don’t bitch at them.  In fact, you should turn on your interior lights and keep your hands on the steering wheel.  Roll down your window enough for him or her to speak with you and don’t reach for any documents until they ask.

Why?  Because if your digging through your glove box in an unlit car at night, it looks both suspicious and dangerous to the officer — they don’t know you, so don’t start off by being sketchy.

2:  You have the right to remain silent.

This seems obvious, we all have heard it at least once during some crime movie or show. If you’re stopped by police in a vehicle, you don’t need to do anything but give the officer your license and registration.

If officer asks what you’re doing or if you know why you’re being pulled you over, don’t answer those questions.  Ask the officer why — make him or her tell you  so you’re not giving witness testimony against yourself. What if you admit to speeding when you’re pulled over for something else?

3: You don’t need to consent to searches.

You never have to consent to a search, so don’t.  Even if officers threaten you with K-9 units, or if you feel you need to because you were asked and you have nothing to hide, there are a lot of reasons you shouldn’t.  The fourth amendment protects against unwarranted searches in homes, cars and even your pockets.  If they can’t see it, they can’t force  you to consent without a warrant.

You don’t have control of everything that happens and you don’t know if there would be any reason they might find something illegal in your car or home.  Whether it be firearms, alcohol or illicit drugs, it’s never a good idea to take a risk if you’re not 100% sure you’re absolutely safe from being charged for something you didn’t even know about.

Also, your personal goods may be damaged and because you consented, you may not be able to receive monetary repayment — they were allowed to search your vehicle, so they aren’t liable once you waive that right.

4:  Don’t get tricked into waiving your rights.

If you don’t want an officer to look through your things and they don’t have probable cause, they cannot search your items without a warrant.  Even if they do get a warrant and even if they find something, it’s better than just letting them search by your consent –  you were going to court anyway and they’re legally allowed to lie to you.  They will threaten with extra charges, however, they can’t just charge you with crimes because you were protecting your privacy.  Don’t buy into it, charges can be dropped before proceedings occur just as arbitrarily.

It’s a lot harder to fight if you willingly gave consent to a search and you were found with something, as opposed to using the system and requiring a warrant.  Don’t consent.  Say, “I don’t consent to searches.”

5:  Determine if you’re free to go.

If the cop is questioning you or trying to threaten you with harsh charges if you don’t just admit guilt, determine if you’re even being held there – if you’re not arrested or detained, you can assume you’re free to go.  Ask them “Officer, am I being detained, or am I free to go?”

If you’re free to go — cool.  Leave politely.

If not, stop talking, don’t answer any questions, you have the right to remain silent.  Ask for a lawyer.  They may keep questioning, but they’re going to do anything to get an admission from you.  Ask to speak with a lawyer.  You have the right to legal representation, so take advantage of it.

6:  Don’t do anything illegal.

This sounds obvious, but think of any COPS episode you’ve seen where someone just made it so much worse because they were being dumb and did illegal things in front of law enforcement.  Don’t break a law in front of police if you’re already speaking to them or in front of them.

7:  Don’t run.

You’re innocent until proven guilty.  If you’re reading this, you’re probably not wanted in every state.  Don’t freak out.  If police pull you over, don’t give them any reason to have suspicion of anything and even if they are suspicious, they can’t do anything (legally).  If you think you’re going to end up in court, end up in court on your terms.  If you’re stopped on your feet, ask if you’re being detained and if not, walk away.  You have the right to remain silent, so you don’t even have to say anything.  If you’re being detained and you run away, you’re not going to have a very sympathetic judge — don’t be a douche to your future self.

8:  Never touch a police officer.

Bro.  They have tazers and they care less about your well-being if you’re a danger to them.  Don’t even lay a hand casually on their arm, this isn’t cool.  It’s a felony and you risk getting hurt for being dumb.  Don’t touch them.

9:  Report misconduct:  Be a good witness.

Most of these scenarios are all within your control, for the most part, but if you’re in a situation where you’re a victim of violence, theft, sexual abuse, or drug overdose, knowing your rights isn’t going to be much help.  These situations are unfortunate and are always hard to believe they might ever happen, but imagine being in a situation where someone could have helped you, but didn’t.

If you want to protect yourself, don’t be afraid to protect others.  I’m not saying you should call up the police department every time someone j-walks or litters a gum wrapper.  But if you can help someone, have courage and do it, and call authorities in a safe location.

Have someone’s back.  Make this a better place.

10:  You don’t need to let police officers in your home.

I didn’t pick this order, but the video doesn’t really stress much on 9.  They just show a few shady dudes in a downtown city neighborhood.  Because there are certain agreements between dormitories and apartments, where necessary, police may have the right to enter your domicile if the landlord needs to in emergency situations.  It is my understanding however, that a landlord would require a warrant before doing so.  In such event, there’s nothing you can do.  But, if police just randomly want to enter, they have no right to.

Also, they cannot without a warrant or your consent search locked containers.  If you give them invitation inside, they can prosecute you for anything they find within sight or even search around, in some cases.

Follow these suggestions and assert yourself.  Don’t disrespect the police or get in their way – but don’t let them disrespect you or get in your way either.  They do serve a purpose and we need to trust them for that.  But a part of their job requires that they look for criminals – even if it’s you.  You can protect yourself just knowing what your rights are and if you use them.

Don’t be afraid to call them or speak with them.  They’re people who swear to serve and protect, so let them serve you and protect you if you need their help.  They’re also more reasonable if you voluntarily ask for help when you need it.

Do some research for yourself, too.  Here are a few websites you should check out:

Attorney General of PA

Flex Your Rights:  When police can use drug dogs

Flex Your Rights General Website

State College Police / Penn State University Police

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About the Author

Chadwick Lynch

I am a creative thinker and content contributor for Onward State. There is always a madness to my method; it's easier to see in the darkness of abstraction when truth causes blindness. I'm only as serious as you think I am. Obscuris Vera Involvens

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