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Traffic Stops: Ten Rules from the NAACP for Dealing with Police

Richard S. Lundin
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Personal injury and family law attorney licensed to practice in Maryland and the District of Columbia

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Police encounters are stressful and can turn deadly.  If you're stopped, it's important to know what to do (and not do) so you can be on your way as soon as possible, safe and sound.. 

Here are ten rules from the NAACP:

Rule #1 – Always be calm and cool. It is important to never talk back, use profanity or raise your voice to an officer. Watch your body language and attitude as well.

Rule #2 – Use your right to remain silent. You have the Constitutional right to remain silent during police questioning.  This is a very powerful right, and you should use it.  Simply say, “Officer, I wish to remain silent, and I want a lawyer.”

Rule #3 – You have the right to refuse searches.  You do not have to comply with a request by police to search you or your car.  Calmly state, “I do not consent to searches.” This may not stop the search, but because you refused, your lawyer may be able to challenge it in court.

Rule #4 – Don’t get tricked. Remember that the police can legally lie to you. So don’t sign or say anything without a lawyer present.

Rule #5 – Determine if you are free to go.The police must have a reasonable suspicion to detain you and they must have probable cause to arrest you.  Simply ask the officer, “Are you detaining me or am I free to go?”

Rule #6 – Don’t expose yourself to suspicion.  Think about your behavior, images and words on your clothing and bumper stickers.  Avoid choices that could make you a public nuisance or suggest to the police that you approve of criminal activity.

Rule #7 – Never run away from the police. Running from the police usually gives them probable cause. Probable cause occurs when facts or evidence suggest that you are involved in criminal activity.

Rule #8 – Never Touch a Police Officer. There is never any reason to physically touch an officer. Any touch, regardless of how innocent, can be perceived as threatening.

Rule #9 – Report Misconduct. Be a Good Witness. Try to get the officer’s badge number, but never ask for it directly.  If an officer knows you are about to make a complaint, things can get very difficult for you.

Rule #10 (Bonus) – You Don’t Have to Let Them In.  Generally, the police need a search warrant to enter your home.  Speak to them through the door or decline to answer altogether unless they have a warrant.

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