DO NOT: Be rude, yell or insult the officer. Saying things like, "I know my rights," "My cousin is a lawyer," or "I will sue you," never improve the outcome of a police encounter. Saying things like, "I smell bacon," is neither novel nor funny.
|It is good manners to be polite. More importantly, police usually have discretion on how to handle citizen encounters. An officer who may have planned to give you a warning could reconsider. Disrespect will be noted in the officer's report, and it won't favor you when a prosecutor or a judge reads it. This is not about free speech, it is simple courtesy.
Police should be courteous to you and respectful of your rights, too. If an officer is not treating you with proper courtesy and respect, it is better to file a complaint later, than to argue at the time. SLS attorneys can advise you before you file a complaint.
|When dealing with police, DO NOT PANIC. Remain calm. You can call SLS after the encounter is over.
|Panicking could lead you to cause yourself more trouble, such as giving out a fake name or running away. It is important that you be thinking as clearly as possible. SLS can provide legal advice and assistance later.
|If police ask who you are, give them your real name and birthdate, and show your ID if you have it. DO NOT give police a fake name or refuse to tell them who you are.
|Police are entitled to ascertain a suspect's identity. If they can't identify you when they ask (the easy way), then they can arrest you and identify you by your fingerprints (the hard way). It is a crime to give false identifying information to a police officer, and under certain circumstances it can be a felony. Although you cannot be charged with a crime for remaining silent, witholding your identifying information will cause more problems than it will solve.
|RIGHT TO BE SILENT
|Except in response to questions about your identity, you may assert your right to silence. To do so, you should clearly say "I do not wish to answer any questions." If police continue to ask you questions afterward, say it again (and again as necessary).
|The law is very lenient with police for not respecting your right to silence unless you explicitly assert that right. If you are simply silent, police can repeatedly ask you questions over and over again. If you don't clearly invoke your right to silence, police may become frustrated with you, which unnecessarily escalates the encounter. There are circumstances where police could try to re-engage you later. If so, you will need to re-assert your rights.
|RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY
|Except in response to questions about your identity, you may assert your right to an attorney. To do so, you should explicitly say "I want an attorney." If police continue to ask you questions afterward, say it again (and again as necessary).
|The law is very lenient with police for not respecting your right to an attorney unless you explicitly assert that right. Equivocal statements like, "Maybe I should talk to an attorney" are not enough to stop questioning. Requesting an attorney affords greater legal protection than asserting silence alone. You can request both by saying, "I do not wish to speak to you without an attorney."
|You should sign your ticket. Read the line above the signature which will say something like, "Without admitting guilt, I agree to appear in court on the above date." Do not refuse to sign the ticket.
|By signing your ticket, you are not admitting guilt. Signing your ticket is merely an acknowledgement of your court date and an agreement to show up to court (the easy way to get you to court). If you don't sign your ticket, police can arrest you (the hard way to get you to court.)
|POLICE CONTACTING YOU AT HOME
|You are not required to answer the door if police knock. If you choose to answer the door, you may remain inside while speaking with police. If you decide to step outside, you may close the door to the residence behind you. You need not allow police to enter your home unless they have a warrant.
|You have more rights inside your home than outside. Being on your porch, inside an apartment building's common areas or in your front yard offers no greater legal protection than being on a public street. Not answering the door does not necessarily mean the police "cannot do anything" to you. The police are allowed to wait for you to come outside, knock multiple times or get a warrant. Police may not cross the threshold of your door without permission, a warrant or exigent circumstances.
|POLICE CONTACTING YOU IN YOUR CAR
|If a police vehicle is behind you with its lights and/or siren on, or if a police officer otherwise tells you to stop your vehicle, you must obey. You should slow down immediately, turn on your blinker and stop as soon as possible. If the officer commands you to exit your car, do so.
|You do not have as many rights in your car as you do in your home. Police can make you exit your car to speak to them. Police can make passengers to get out of a car also. You do not have a right to refuse to get out of the car if an officer commands it. Police may even reach in your car to remove you if they have legal justification to do so, and you refuse.
|POLICE CONTACTING YOU ON THE STREET
|If a police officer requests you to do something, you are not required to do it, and may politely decline. Listen carefully to what the police officer is saying to you, and listen for words like "voluntary" or "would you mind". If a police officer orders you to do something, you must obey. "Stop" and "sit," are always commands, and an officer's tone should be heeded.
If you aren't certain what the officer said or you are not sure if the officer is "done" with you, ask "Am I free to leave?" If the answer is yes, then WALK away.
|Even if the officer wrongly issues a command, failing to obey it can be the basis for a criminal charge.
Many police have body worn cameras, and police misconduct can be dealt with later. SLS can provide advice about whether an how to file a complaint if you believe an officer mistreated you.
If you run from an officer, that alone may be grounds to stop you. If an officer has to chase you, it will usually end badly for you both legally and physically. It is not uncommon for body worn cameras to fall off during a chase, leaving you with no video evidence to protect your rights.
|You are not required to consent to a search of your home, car, person or belongings.
Police are not required to use any specific language or say the word "search" when asking for consent, and may use more casual words like, "take a look," or, "look around" when requesting your consent for a search.
|If you consent to a search, you waive your right to contest the legality of that search later. If you do not wish the police to search your home or car or belongings, you should be clear, but polite. You may say, "I do not consent to you searching my..." but simply answering, "No." is suffucient.
If the police have a search warrant or certain emergency circumstances exist, they will not ask for your consent and you should not try to stop them from searching. Police are not required to show you a warrant before they start searching.
|POLICE PAT-DOWNS OR FRISKS
|If you have been stopped outside of your home and a police officer has a reason to believe you might have a weapon and pose a danger, the officer may perform a brief "pat down" search of your clothing for officer safety purposes. This is not considered a "search" under the law.
|If you are "patted down," and the officer performing the search feels something in your clothing that provides a good reason to suspect you have a weapon or some item that is illegal, the officer may retrieve the item and keep it while you are detained. If the item is illegal, the officer may charge or arrest you for possessing it.
|RECORDING THE POLICE
|In Colorado, you have the right to video record police officers performing their duties. You also have the right to audio record police conversations if you are near and visible to them.
|In Colorado, you can legally audio record police officers without permission BUT it is illegal to hide yourself while doing so. (That's called eavesdropping and it's a felony.) If you think you might want or have a need to record the police, have your phone out and ready; if your phone is still in your purse, pocket or backpack, police may not let you reach in to get it because you could be reaching for a weapon.
The above is general advice that does not take into account any particular circumstances, so your situation may be different. If you have a specific question about something that happened, you should call Student Legal Services, and we can discuss your specific situation and provide guidance.