- When dealing with the police, keep your
hands in view and don't make sudden movements. Avoid passing behind them.
Nervous cops are dangerous cops. Also, never touch the police or their
equipment (vehicles, flashlights, animals, etc.) - you can get beat up
and charged with assault.
- The police do not decide your charges;
they can only make recommendations. The prosecutor is the only person who
can actually charge you. Remember this the next time the cops start rattling
off all the charges they're supposedly "going to give you."
- Interrogation isn't always bright lights
and rubber hoses - usually it's just a conversation. Whenever the cops
ask you anything besides your name and address, it's legally safest to
(respectfully) say these Magic Words:
- "I am going to remain silent. I
want to see a lawyer."
- This invokes the rights which protect
you from interrogation. When you say this, the cops (and all other law
enforcement officials) are legally required to stop asking you questions.
They probably won't stop, so just repeat the Magic Words or remain silent
until they catch on.
- Remember, anything you say to the authorities
can and will be used against you and your friends in court. There's no
way to predict what information the police might try to use or how they'd
use it. Plus, the police often misquote or lie altogether about what was
said. So say only the Magic Words and let all the cops and witnesses know
that this is your policy. Make sure that when you're arrested with other
people, the rest of the group knows the Magic Words and promises to use
- One of the jobs of cops is to get information
out of people, and they usually don't have any scruples about how they
do it. Cops are legally allowed to lie when they're investigating, and
they are trained to be manipulative. The only thing you should say to cops,
other than identifying yourself, is the Magic Words: "I am going to
remain silent. I want to see a lawyer."
- Here are some lies they will tell you:
- "You're not a suspect - just help
us understand what happened here and then you can go."
- "If you don't answer my questions,
I'll have no choice but to arrest you. Do you want to go to jail?"
- "If you don't answer my questions,
I'm going to charge you with resisting arrest."
- "All of your friends have cooperated
and we let them go home. You're the only one left."
- Cops are sneaky buggers and there are
lots of ways they can trick you into talking. Here are some scams they'll
- Good Cop/ Bad Cop: Bad cop is aggressive
and menacing, while good cop is nice, friendly, and familiar (usually good
cop is the same race and gender as you). The idea is bad cop scares you
so bad you are desperately looking for a friend. Good cop is that friend.
- The cops will tell you that your friends
ratted on you so that you will snitch on them. Meanwhile, they tell your
friends the same thing. If anyone breaks and talks, you all go down.
- The cops will tell you that they have
all the evidence they need to convict you and that if you "take responsibility"
and confess the judge will be impressed by your honesty and go easy on
you. What they really mean is: "we don't have enough evidence yet,
- Jail is a very isolating and intimidating
place. It is really easy to believe what the cops tell you. Insist upon
speaking with a lawyer before you answer any questions or sign anything.
- The Golden Rule: Never trust a cop.
- The Miranda Warnings
- The police do not have to read you your
rights (also known as the Miranda warnings). Miranda applies when there
is (a) an interrogation (b) by a police officer of other agent of law enforcement
(c) while the suspect is in police custody (you do not have to be formally
arrested to be "in custody"). Even when all these conditions
are met, the police intentionally violate Miranda. And though your rights
have been violated, what you say can be used against you. For this reason,
it is better not to wait for the cops â¤" you know what
your rights are, so you can invoke them by saying the Magic Words, "I
am going to remain silent. I want to see a lawyer."
- If you've been arrested and realize that
you have started answering questions, don't panic. Just re-invoke your
rights by saying the Magic Words again. Don't let them trick you into thinking
that because you answered some of their questions, you have to answer all
- Police Encounters
- There are three basic types of encounters
with the police: Conversation, Detention, and Arrest.
- When the cops are trying to get information,
but don't have enough evidence to detain or arrest you, they'll try to
weasel some information out of you. They may call this a "casual encounter"
or a "friendly conversation". If you talk to them, you may give
them the information they need to arrest you or your friends. In most situations,
it's better and safer not to talk to cops.
- Police can detain you only if they have
reasonable suspicion (see below) that you are involved in a crime. Detention
means that, though you aren't arrested, you can't leave. Detention is supposed
to last a short time and they aren't supposed to move you. During detention,
the police can pat you down and go into your bag to make sure you don't
have any weapons. They aren't supposed to go into your pockets unless they
feel a weapon.
- If the police are asking questions, ask
if you are being detained. If not, leave and say nothing else to them.
If you are being detained, you may want to ask why. Then you should say
the Magic Words: "I am going to remain silent. I want a lawyer"
and nothing else.
- A detention can easily turn into arrest.
If the police are detaining you and they get information that you are involved
in a crime, they will arrest you, even if it has nothing to do with your
detention. For example, if someone gets pulled over for speeding (detained)
and the cop sees drugs in the car, the cops will arrest her for possession
of the drugs even though it has nothing to do with her getting pulled over.
Cops have two reasons to detain you: 1) they are writing you a citation
(a traffic ticket, for example), or 2) they want to arrest you but they
don't have enough information yet to do so.
- Police can arrest you only if they have
probable cause (see below) that you are involved in a crime. When you are
arrested, the cops can search you to the skin and go through you car and
any belongings. By law, an officer strip searching you must be the same
gender as you.
- If the police come to your door with
an arrest warrant, go outside and lock the door behind you. Cops are allowed
to search any room you go into, so don't go back into the house for any
reason. If they have an arrest warrant, hiding won't help because they
are allowed to force their way in if they know you are there. It's usually
better to just go with them without giving them an opportunity to search.
- Reasonable Suspicion vs. Probable Cause
- Reasonable suspicion must be based on
more than a hunch - cops must be able to put their suspicion into words.
For example, cops can't just stop someone and say, "She looked like
she was up to something." They need to be more specific, like, "She
was standing under the overpass staring up at some graffiti that hadn't
been there 2 hours ago. She had the same graffiti pattern written on her
backpack. I suspected that she had put up the graffiti."
- Cops need more proof to say they have
a probable cause than to say they have a reasonable suspicion. For example,
"A store owner called to report someone matching her description tagging
a wall across the street. As I drove up to the store, I saw her running
away spattered with paint and carrying a spray can in her hand."
- Never consent to a search! If the police
try to search your house, car, backpack, pockets, etc. say the Magic Words
2: "I do not consent to this search." This may not stop them
from forcing their way in and searching anyway, but if they search you
illegally, they probably won't be able to use the evidence against you
in court. You have nothing to lose from refusing to consent to a search
and lots to gain. Do not physically resist cops when they are trying to
search because you could get hurt and charged with resisting arrest or
assault. Just keep repeating the Magic Words 2 so that the cops and all
witnesses know that this is your policy.
- Be careful about casual consent. That
is, if you are stopped by the cops and you get out of the car but don't
close the door, they can search the car and claim that they though you
were indicating consent by leaving the door ajar. Also, if you say, "I'd
rather you didn't search," they can claim that you were reluctantly
giving them permission to search. Always just say the Magic Words 2: "I
do not consent to this search."
- If the cops have a search warrant, nothing
changes - it's legally safest to just say the Magic Words 2. Again, you
have nothing to lose from refusing to consent to a search, and lots to
gain if the search warrant is incorrect or invalid in some way. If they
do have a search warrant, ask to read it. A valid warrant must have a recent
date (usually not more than a couple of weeks), the correct address, and
a judge's or magistrate's signature; some warrants indicate the time of
day the cops can search. You should say the Magic Words 2 whether or not
the search warrant appears correct. The same goes for any government official
who tries to search you, your belongings, or your house.
- Infiltrators and Informants
- Undercover cops sometimes infiltrate
political organizations. They can lie about being cops even if asked directly.
Undercover cops can even break the law (narcs get hazard pay for doing
drugs as part of their cover) and encourage others to do so as well. This
is not legally entrapment.
- FBI and other government agents
- The essence of the Magic Words "I'm
keeping my mouth shut until I talk to a lawyer" not only applies to
police but also to the FBI, INS, CIA, even IRS. If you want to be nice
and polite, tell them that you don't wish to speak with them until you've
spoken with your lawyer, or that you won't answer questions without a lawyer
present. If you are being investigated as a result of your political activity,
you can call the National Lawyers Guild at (415) 582-1055; they will help
you find a lawyer you can talk to.
- Taking Notes
- Whenever you interact with or observe
the police, always write down what is said and who said it. Write down
the cops' names and badge numbers and the names and contact information
of any witnesses. Record everything that happens. If you are expecting
a lot of police contact, get in the habit of carrying a small tape recorder
and a camera with you. Be careful - cops don't like people taking notes,
especially if the cops are planning on doing something illegal. Observing
them and documenting their actions may have very different results; for
example, it may cause them to respond aggressively, or it may prevent them
from abusing you or your friends.
- People deal with police in all kinds
of circumstances. You must make an individual decision about how you will
interact with law enforcement. It is important to know your legal rights,
but it is also important for you to decide when and how to use them in
order to best protect yourself