What Should I Do If I Am Stopped By the Police?

Stay calm. Don’t run, argue, resist, or obstruct the police, even if you are innocent or the police are violating your rights. It is a crime in Massachusetts to resist arrest even if the police have no lawful basis to arrest you. Keep your hands where police can see them at all times.

Ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, calmly and silently walk away. If you are under arrest, submit to the arrest.

Exercise your right to remain silent. You have the right to remain silent and cannot be punished for refusing to answer questions. Tell the officer clearly and in no uncertain terms that you do not want to speak to the police. They may tell you that it will be “easier on everyone” if you tell them “your side of the story.” That is not true: the only one that is easier on is the police who can and will use your words against you to support an arrest even if you have done nothing wrong. Don’t give any information beyond your true name. You are only required by law to show identification if you are driving.

Do not consent to the police searching you or your belongings. You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your property, but police may “pat down” your clothing if they suspect a weapon. You should not physically resist, but you have the right to verbally refuse consent for any searches. If the police search you illegally, whatever they find on you may be suppressed at a later time in court. If you do consent to the search however, the otherwise illegal search is no longer illegal so there is no way to remedy the situation in court.

What should I do if I am stopped by the police when I am driving?

Stop the car in a safe place as quickly as possible. Turn off the car, turn on the inside light, open the window part way and place your hands on the wheel.

Show the police your driver’s license and registration if asked. Don’t start going through your belongings to find these items unless and until you are asked for them.

Do not consent to a search. If the police believe your car contains evidence of a crime, your car can and will be searched without your consent. If the police search your car illegally, whatever they find may be suppressed at a later time in court. If you consent to the search, it cannot be suppressed even if the police did not have a lawful basis to search.

Exercise your right to remain silent (discussed above).