The police work hard to keep residents of the Commonwealth safe, but it can still be unnerving when an officer approaches you. You know you have rights, but in those panicky moments in which an officer confronts you it may be hard to recall what your rights actually are.
Whether you have already had a confrontation with police and want to know if your rights were violated, or you just want to be prepared for the future, it is essential that you understand what police can and cannot make you do.
- You have the right to remain silent. You cannot get in trouble if you do not want to answer a police officer's questions. You do, however, need to tell police that you are exercising your right to remain silent so they understand you are not just being difficult.
- You do not have to let them search you, your car, or your belongings. Police are allowed to pat you down if they suspect you may have a weapon, and they can look in your car if they believe it contains evidence of a crime. Otherwise, you can politely refuse their request to search your person or property. If you do allow them to search your belongings and they do find something, it can be used against you later.
- You have the right to leave if you are not under arrest. Ask the officer if you are free to leave. If they say yes, walk away calmly and quietly.
If you are arrested, you have the right to an attorney and a local phone call, so do not sign anything or speak to anyone before you call a criminal law attorney. You may feel combative or like you are being unfairly targeted, but it is important that you stay calm and don't say or do anything that can get you in more trouble.
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