The police can approach any person in a public place and ask them questions. However, if the person the police are questioning is not suspected of committing a crime, that person is free to leave the conversation without penalty.
If the police have “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity, they then can detain a person, ask questions, and require identification.
What should I do if I’m stopped by police?
- If unsure, politely ask if you are under arrest or if you are free to leave.
- If the officer says that you are free to leave, then you should walk away.
- Never run from a police officer. Running will make you look guilty, even if you are not.
- If you are not allowed to leave, then you should remain silent if the officer asks you any questions.
- Remain calm and polite.
What do I do if police want to search me?
If the police have a reasonable suspicion that you have been involved in a crime and that you may be dangerous, they can pat down the outside of your clothing to check for weapons. The pat down is only for the officer’s own safety.
If you think a pat down is illegal, you should calmly and clearly tell the officer that you do not consent. Later, tell your attorney about the pat search.
Can police search my property or my home?
Police can search your items, home, or car:
- After you are arrested. Police can search you and the area within your immediate control, or the area in which you could reach for a weapon
- With your consent. You are not required to consent and can refuse a search.
- When illegal items are in plain view.
- In any emergency situations.
- Borders, airplanes, and schools. All of these have special rules and you and your belongings can be searched without probable cause.
- When you can’t legally drive your car and there is no one else present who can take the car, police can tow the vehicle and perform an inventory search.
Disclaimer: This document is intended to be informational. It is not legal advice concerning your specific situation. Please see a lawyer if you need advice about a specific situation.