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to do if you're arrested
or stopped by the police
|Caroline Roberto, Esq
Law and Finance Bldg.
Pgh. PA 15219
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you're stopped by the police, you run the risk of being
arrested or hurt, or both. Most officers will not act
improperly, but whether they act properly or not you still
need to protect your rights and keep yourself
If you're stopped or arrested,
try to avoid conflict so that the police stay calm. The
following tips may help. They're combined from several
sources, including this
ACLU Bust Card. (PDF - print it and keep in your wallet)
What to do when
you are stopped
- Stay calm and in control of your words, body
language, and emotions.
- Do not run or walk away. Keep your hands where
police can see them -- don't put them in your pockets.
(Don't make the police nervous by wondering if you have a
weapon.) Don't make any sudden movements. Never touch a
- Be polite and respectful.
- Give your name and address only if you're asked
to, but remember you don't need to say anything more.
(The caveat is that if the police are annoyed by your
refusal to say more, they may take you to the station out
of spite.) Remember, anything you say or do can be used
against you later.
- To search you or your vehicle the police must have
a warrant, or have arrested you, or have probable cause
that you committed a crime. If the police lack these
they may ask you for permission to search. If you GIVE
them permission, then you can't argue later in court that
they performed an illegal search.
- Try to remember the officers' physical
descriptions. Try to memorize badge numbers, names,
license plate numbers, and police car numbers. Once the
police stop questioning you, write all this down as soon
as you are able.
- Ask bystanders to stand at a discreet distance and
observe. The police are less likely to do something
wrong if there are people watching. People have a right
to stand at a reasonable distance and observe as long as
they do not interfere. (The police may consider that
bystanders repeatedly asking them questions constitutes
"interference".) Get the names and phone numbers of the
witnesses afterward in case you need them in the
- If you are being abused, don't resist.
Once multiple officers start hurting you, you can't stop
them by resisting, and struggling may only encourage
them. Think of a cat playing with a mouse -- while the
mouse is struggling, the cat is excited, but when the
mouse stops moving, the cat loses interest. In some
cases, the police may continue to abuse you even if you
don't struggle, but since struggling can't help you, it's
best not to try.
- If the police let you go and you are injured,
take photographs of the injuries as soon as possible, but
make sure you seek medical attention first.
- If you feel your rights have been violated, file a
written complaint. Keep a copy of the complaint, and
make sure a family member or close friend has a
- 1. Do not resist arrest, even if you believe you are
innocent. You will be arrested anyway, and then you'll
have the additional charge of Resisting Arrest. Also, the
police are more likely to hurt people who resist
- 2. If you are told that you are under arrest, give
only the name, address, and telephone number of you, your
immediate family, and your employer. This information is
needed in setting bail.
- 3. You have a right to remain silent. Say only, "I
want to talk to a lawyer." If the police continue to
question you, do not answer. Also, do not speak on a
video tape or to a district attorney about anything.
Remember, it's in the police officers' best interest to
get you to incriminate yourself. If you're arrested with
somebody else, don't talk with them about the incident in
the back of the police car even when the police are not
in the car; many police cars now secretly make video or
audio recordings of such conversations.
- 4. You have a right to make one phone call to your
family, lawyer, or organization (remember the phone you
use may be tapped).
- 5. Do not act defiant or talk about filing
complaints. You do not want the police to retaliate
against you while you're in their custody.
- 6. You will be handcuffed searched, photographed, and
- 7. Try to get the names and badge numbers of the
police who arrested you or deal with you in the police
station. (This information is your right.)
If your friend is
- 1. Write down the officers' names, badge numbers, and
car number. The police do not have to give you their
badge numbers unless you're the one being arrested,
though. Be polite and don't threaten to file a complaint;
you don't want them to arrest you too out of spite. I've
seen it happen.
- 2. Write down the time, date, and place of the
- 3. Get the names and phone numbers of witnesses.
- 4. If possible, photograph or videotape the
- 5. Get a name of a relative to contact if the person
- 6. Ask on what charge your friend was arrested and
where (s)he is being taken.