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April 14, 2010

Flex Your Rights Presents: 10 Rules for Dealing with Police

by Stephen Littau

The Bill of Rights provides citizens basic protections against unlawful searches and seizures via the Fourth Amendment, protections against self incrimination via the Fifth Amendment, and the right to an attorney via the Sixth Amendment. On a theoretical level, most people probably know this but what does this mean on a practical level?

If the police pull you over, are you required to answer the officer’s questions if he hasn’t informed you of your right to remain silent? What does “probable cause” and “reasonable suspicion” mean when a police officer wants to search your vehicle and do you have a right to refuse the search? Should you consent to the search if you know you have nothing to hide? If the police knock on your front door, are you legally required to let them in if they don’t have a warrant? Are the police legally required to tell the truth or can they make false promises or otherwise trick you into waiving your constitutionally protected civil rights?

If you are unsure about the answers to these questions, don’t feel bad; I wasn’t too sure myself. The 4 part video series 10 Rules for Dealing with Police from the group that calls itself Flex Your Rights answers these questions and more in terms a lay person like myself can easily understand. Some of the advice is common sense (see rules 1, 7, & 8 below) while others are more legal in nature.

Whether you are a “law abiding citizen” who almost never has an encounter with the police or a “cop magnet,” this advice not only could keep you from being in serious legal trouble but also keep you from being beaten, tazered, or shot (if you follow these rules and these things still happen, you have more legal recourse against offending officers).

If you don’t have time to watch these videos right away, here are the 10 Rules for Dealing with Police in brief:

1. Always be calm and cool. [Don’t give the police any reason to act aggressively; they do have a very dangerous job and if they feel threatened they are more likely to act aggressively].

2. You [always] have the right to remain silent. [The best way to assert this right, especially if the police insist on questioning you is by asserting your Sixth Amendment right to legal council and KEEP YOUR MOUTH SHUT until your lawyer advises you otherwise].

3. You have the right to refuse searches. [Assert this right by calmly and politely telling the police officer “I don’t consent to searches”].

4. Don’t get tricked. [Yes, the police can legally lie to you and trick you into waiving your civil rights].

5. Determine if you are free to go. [Ask the officer: “Are you detaining me or am I free to go?”].

6. Don’t expose yourself. [Don’t do anything that might appear suspicious in public].

7. Don’t run. [Running from the police is never a good idea].

8. Never touch a cop. [The simplest touch of a police officer can be considered assault; don’t do it].

9. Report misconduct: be a good witness.

10. You don’t have to let them in. [You do not have to let the police in your home unless they have a search warrant or there is an emergency which requires immediate action on their part. If you allow them to enter, anything they might find that could incriminate you can be used against you because you unwittingly waived your Fourth Amendment rights].

Here’s the series in its entirety (parts 2-4 are below the fold).


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5 Comments

  1. A detailed look at the importance of #2:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i8z7NC5sgik

    Comment by jeff molby — April 14, 2010 @ 12:09 pm
  2. Thanks for that Jeff. I watched both parts and one thing is very, very clear: don’t EVER answer questions from the police. Any time I am pulled over I say something like “What SEEMS to be the problem officer?” If s/he asks how fast I think I was going, I say “I don’t know” and leave it at that. I say as little as possible (which isn’t hard because I’m a shy person in person; you would probably never guess that reading my posts).

    Comment by Stephen Littau — April 14, 2010 @ 2:17 pm
  3. Stephen said “If s/he asks how fast I think I was going, I say “I don’t know” and leave it at that.”

    Naturally, in court, if you indicate you knew your speed, the police will report your comment about not knowing.

    If you don’t know your speed, the court must take the word of the person who claims to have paid attention to it, the one who wrote the ticket.

    Comment by CT_YANKEE — April 16, 2010 @ 12:26 am
  4. That’s a good point CT_Yankee. It’s probably best not to say anything. Speeding is a very difficult thing to challenge though because its not just the officer’s word against yours but his word and his radar against yours.

    Comment by Stephen Littau — April 16, 2010 @ 8:07 am
  5. I came across a website called ticket slayer that claims to be able to assist in beating any traffic violation by using the rules of common law, supposedly the highest law. It basically involves sending an affidavit of truth to the court stating one’s individual sovereignty. When the prosecutor fails to respond to the affidavit, it stands as truth and the judge apparently has no choice but to dismiss.

    I’ve never tried it, and I don’t want to sound like an advocate, but the idea was intriguing and seems like it might actually work, and for more than just traffic tickets.

    Comment by John222 — April 16, 2010 @ 5:01 pm

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