What are my rights if the police approach me?

By WORLDLawDirect  [January 30th, 2011]

What are my rights if the police approach me and ask me questions?

Suppose you or someone you are with calls the police, or you are outside your home or in a public place when the police arrive and begin to ask questions.

Law enforcement officers have a duty to protect the community they serve, its citizens and their property. The law gives police certain powers to help them perform that duty.

They have the power to approach persons and ask them questions. Simply because you are approached and questioned by the police does not mean that you are suspected of having committed a crime. All citizens are encouraged to cooperate with the police to see that those who break the law are brought to justice, and the police rely on law-abiding citizens to do so. But you are not required to incriminate yourself.

YOU MAY REFUSE TO ANSWER ANY QUESTION IF THE ANSWER WOULD TEND TO INCRIMINATE YOU.

If the police "stop" me and ask questions?

Suppose you are walking down a street when a police officer confronts you and announces: "Stop, I need to ask you some questions." A person is "stopped" when an officer uses enough force, or a show of his authority as a police officer, to make a reasonable person feel they are not free to leave. In this example, the officer called out for you to stop, and may have used his authority to make you do so. If he pulled out his weapon or used a threatening tone of voice, it would be even more clear that a stop has taken place. Because he is interfering with your liberty to move about, the officer should first have a reasonable suspicion that you have been involved in a crime. This would be a suspicion that would need to be supported later (if the matter should wind up in a court by the officer's reference to specific facts that gave him such suspicion.

The police are not required to tell you that you are a suspect or that they intend to arrest you, but if they have used force or a show of authority to keep you from leaving, it is likely they consider you a suspect. They may consider you a suspect even if you were the person who called the police. If they read you or tell you your Miranda rights, they suspect that you have committed a crime.

Just as when an officer merely approaches and questions you, if you are stopped, you have the right to refuse to answer any questions if the answer would tend to incriminate you.

Further, anything you say can be used as evidence against you. Sometimes people think that what they are saying won't incriminate them.

Even if you believe the officer has no grounds to stop and question you, do not argue with or resist the police. Arguing or resisting the police will not help you; it may make it more likely that the police will arrest you and bring criminal charges against you; and it may make it harder for you to get out of jail on bail if you are charged. Once officers no longer have grounds to detain you, they should tell you that you are free to go before asking if they can search you or your car.

What are my rights if arrested by the police?

An arrest is different than a stop. A stop involves brief questioning in the place where you were. If the officer wishes to hold you for a longer period of time, or decides to take you elsewhere, such as down to the police station, he is no longer just stopping you, he has arrested you. Because an arrest deprives you of your freedom of movement for an even longer period of time, the law limits the instances when arrests can be made.

See also...

Criminal Law - Forum

Criminal Law, Arrests, Traffic Tickets