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Most law-abiding citizens do not expect the police to stop them or pull them over when they are going about their daily lives. However, it can happen, and the experience can be quite unnerving. Routine checks and stops can be carried out on pretty much anybody, and for people of color in America they can be especially terrifying. The Constitution grants you basic rights during any interaction with the police. If you are pulled over, stopped, or the police request to search you, it’s important to know what the limits are and what you can do.
Your Constitutional Rights
Under the First Amendment, you have the right to protest peacefully and the right to free speech. Under the constitution you are also granted the right to record any interactions that you have with the cops as long as it doesn’t interfere directly with anything the police are doing. Under the Fourth Amendment, you are protected from being searched unreasonably, while the right to remain silent is given with the Fifth Amendment. If you have reason to believe that you have been searched unreasonably, an attorney who deals with search and seizures cases can help.
Can You Walk Away?
Just like you don’t have to carry on a conversation with anybody else that you do not wish to talk to, you do not have to engage and can leave a conversation with the police if you are not arrested or being detained. If you are not being detained or arrested, then any encounter you are having with the police can be consented to or not consented to by you. If the police wish to speak to you, but you don’t want to speak to them, then you can ask if you are free to walk away. If you are not free to leave, then you are being detained in order to allow the police to investigate reasonable suspicions. A search may be conducted as part of the detention, which may be followed by an arrest if any incriminating evidence is found.
Do You Have to Be Searched?
You can refuse consent to being searched by a police officer if they ask to conduct a search. However, bear in mind that police officers do not always ask clearly, and you may not even be aware that you are consenting to a search. If a police officer asks to look at your belongings, car, pockets, etc., then it’s important to make it verbally clear that you do not consent to being searched.
Even if you know your rights and do everything you have been advised in this situation, there are going to be cops who might search anyway, even if you’ve not consented. In this case, avoid resisting as this could lead to charges against you. You can take it to court if you feel that a police officer has acted in an unconstitutional or unlawful way when dealing with you.
Being stopped and searched by the police can be unnerving and downright terrifying for some people, especially if you know you have done nothing wrong. Understanding your rights in this situation is important for all US citizens.