Your Rights & Responsibilities When Dealing with Law Enforcement Officers

Rights and responsibilities when dealing with police officers


When dealing with a member of law enforcement it is essential to remember, we as citizens have rights and responsibilities. Being questioned or detained by a police officer may be unsettling but if you are well informed, you can get through it smoothly and confidently.

1. Questioning

Q: What kind of law enforcement officers can question you?

A: Police officers may ask you a variety of questions, but they will most likely start with the basics of name, address, and date of birth. You have the right to remain silent however in some U.S. states you are required by law to give officers your name.

Beyond the basics, and before you are charged with any offense, police officers have the right to ask you questions about broken laws and your involvement or witness to them.

Q: Do, you have to answer questions asked by law enforcement officers?

A: No, you have the right to remain completely silent. You may also request a lawyer at any time. In some states, however, you must give your name or provide a driver’s license to verify your identity, or you could be arrested.

Q: Are there any exceptions to the general rule where you do not have to answer questions?

A: Yes, in some states you are required to give your name, and if you are stopped while driving you must show your driver’s license. Otherwise, you have the right to remain silent. Keep in mind that anything you do say can be used against you later.


know the rules when communicating with police

Q: Can you talk to a lawyer before answering questions?

A: Yes, you have the right to speak to a lawyer at any time and then can choose whether or not to speak to law enforcement.

Q: What if law enforcement officers threaten you with a grand jury subpoena if you don’t answer their questions?

A: You still have the legal right to remain silent. The officer may just be trying to bully you into speaking and may not be able to get the subpoena. A judge is the only one who can require you to speak.

Q: What if you are asked to meet with officers for a “counter-terrorism interview.”

A: You always have the right to remain silent, but if you are asked to be interviewed by the counter-terrorism department of law enforcement, you can say no. If you do agree, you can choose to have your lawyer present, and you have the right to set the date, time and place of the interview. Remember anything you say can later be used against you.


2. Stops and Arrests

stops and arrests

Q: What if law enforcement officers stop you in your car?

A: Keep your hands visible at all times. If you are asked to provide your driver’s license, registration, and insurance card, do so slowly and deliberately. An officer may also ask you to step out of the car, do so. But again, you have the right to remain completely silent. An officer cannot search your vehicle without your consent or with substantial “probable cause.”

Q: What if law enforcement officers stop you in the street?

A: You do not have to speak with an officer who stops you on the street. You can say you do not wish to speak to them and walk away. However, you may want to ask instead “am I free to go?” Either way, you can still walk away but do not run. Running will give the officer “reasonable suspicion” to chase you and possibly arrest you. They also have the right to pat you down if they feel you are acting suspiciously. You can refuse, but if they continue, do not fight them.

Q: What should I do if law enforcement officers arrest me?

A: Listen carefully to make sure the arresting officer reads you the Miranda rights where you may remain silent, have the right to an attorney and if you cannot afford one, one will be appointed to you. It is in your best interest to exercise all of these rights. Provide the authorities with your name only and then wait for your lawyer until you speak again.

Q: Do I have to answer questions if I have been arrested?

A: No, you have the constitutional right to remain silent and speak only with your lawyer. Keeping quiet is probably the best course of action anyway because anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law.

Q: What if I am treated badly by law enforcement officers?

A: Keep a note of the officer’s badge number, name or any other identifying information. You do have the legal right to ask for their badge number. If there are witnesses, get their contact information also. Contact your lawyer and the ACLU to file a formal complaint.


3. Searches & Warrants

searches and warrants

Q: Can law enforcement officers search your home or office?

A: Only if they have a legal warrant to search. They must obtain a search warrant only after procuring probable cause and strong suspicion that your home or office contains evidence of a crime.

Q: What are warrants and what should you make sure they say?

A: A warrant is a legal document giving officers the right to search property that you are in control of, or to arrest you. If it is an arrest warrant, they cannot search your home or office but can take you into custody. They must have a separate search warrant to search your home, office or other spaces.

A legal warrant has your name, address and the name of the judge who ordered it. It will also contain the name of the department or agency who ordered the warrant.

Q: What should you do if officers come to your house?

A: First do not open the door. Ask them through the door if they have a warrant. If they do not have a warrant, do not open the door and do not speak with them. If they do have a warrant, ask them to slip it under the door or show it to you through the peephole. If it is inaccurate or incomplete, you can tell them you refuse the search. Call your lawyer immediately. If they perform the search anyway, take down badge numbers, names, and detail what they did and what they removed from your house.

Q: What if law enforcement officers do not have a search warrant?

A: You do not have to let them in, nor do you have to answer any questions.


police officers

Q: What if law enforcement officers tell me they will come back with a search warrant if you do not let them in?

A: Again, you do not have to speak with them or let them in. Let them do the work of obtaining a search warrant; chances are they are bluffing.

Q: What if law enforcement officers do not have a search warrant, but they insist on searching your home even after you object?

A: Do not interfere but state that you do not consent to the search. Take down names, badge numbers, and notes of what they searched and call your lawyer immediately.


4. Information for Non-Citizens

Q: What types of law enforcement officers may try to question you?

A: a variety of types of officers may try to speak with you and ask you questions about your legal immigration status and background. They may also want to know about your friends, family, and colleagues.

Q: Do you have to answer questions about whether you are a U.S. citizen, where you were born, where you live, where you are from, or other questions about your immigration status?

A: No, you have the legal right to refuse to answer any of the questions above. However, be careful not to claim you are a U.S. citizen if you are not. Contact your lawyer before speaking to any law enforcement.

Q: Do I have to show officers my immigration documents?

A: If you have your legal U.S. immigration documents on you, then yes it is a good idea to show them to law enforcement. You can be arrested if you refuse to provide them. You should keep them on hand at all times.

Q: What should I do if there is an immigration raid where you work?

A: You should keep silent and ask for permission when you can leave. Contact your lawyer after.

Q: What can you do if immigration officers are arresting you and you have children in your care or your children need to be picked up and taken care of?

A: Ask to call a family member or friend to take temporary custody of the children until you return.

Q: What should you do if immigration officers arrest you?

A: You can remain silent, and you should ask to speak with your lawyer as soon as possible. Do not sign anything and wait to talk with your attorney.

Q: Do you have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any law enforcement officers’ questions or signing any immigration papers?

A: Yes, you always have the right to remain silent and speak to a lawyer before answering any questions. Although you will not be appointed an attorney, you will be provided a list of lawyers that work pro-bono in these cases.

Q: If you are arrested for immigration violations, do you have the right to a hearing before an immigration judge to defend yourself against deportation charges?

A: Yes you have the right to be heard in front of a judge if you have not signed a “Stipulated Removal Order,” or agreed to voluntarily depart.

Q: Can you call your consulate if you are arrested?

A: Yes. Anyone who is a non-U.S. citizen and has been arrested has the right to contact their consulate office. You must legally be permitted to speak or visit with them.

Q: What happens if you give up your right to a hearing or leave the U.S. before the hearing is over?

A: If you give up your right to a hearing you run the risk of never being able to return to the United States. You should discuss with your lawyer before making any decisions or signing any documents.


5. Rights at Airports and Other Ports of Entry to the US

rights at airports and other terminals of entry to the US

Q: What types of officers could you encounter at the airport and the border?

A: A wide variety of law enforcement may be present in an airport. The most common are TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) officers.

Q: If you are entering the U.S. with valid travel papers, can law enforcement officers stop and search you?

A: Yes customs officers have the legal right to search and detain anyone they feel might be of suspicion. They do not have the right to select you for search based on your race, gender or religious beliefs.

Q: Can law enforcement officers ask questions about your immigration status?

A: Yes, because you are traveling in or out the country, your immigration status is important and you must provide your legal documents.

Q: Can law enforcement officers search your laptop files? If they do, can they make copies of the files, or information from your address book, papers, or cell phone contacts?

A: Yes, they do have the legal right to search your laptop files and make copies of anything on it. If they search your laptop, make a note of badge numbers and names and what they copied. Contact your lawyer afterward.

Q: Can your bags or you be searched after going through metal detectors with no problem or after security sees that your bags do not contain a weapon?

A: Yes they have the legal right to perform a more detailed search on anyone regardless of whether your bags passed the initial search.

Q: If you are on an airplane, can an airline employee interrogate you or ask you to get off the plane?

A: Only the pilot has the right to refuse to fly someone based on suspicion of danger. They cannot base this decision on race, gender or other ethnic profiling.


6. Charitable Donations and Religious Practices 

charitable donations and religious activities

Q: Can you give to a charity organization without becoming a terror suspect?

 A: Yes you can donate as much as you want to charity organizations but be careful you know who the organization is and who funds them.

Q: Is it safe for you to practice your religion in religious institutions or public places?

A: Absolutely. You have a constitutional right to worship however you want, where you want and in whatever manner that suits you.

Q: What else can you do to be prepared?

A: Keep abreast of local and global news from reputable sources to be aware of what is going on, what dangers exist and what steps you can take to keep you and your family safe. Always have a family emergency plan with numbers handy for local and national emergency support.




American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC): (202) 244-2990

American Immigration Law Foundation (AILF): (202) 742-5600

American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA): (800) 954-0254

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF): (212) 966-5932

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR): (202) 488-8787

Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF): (213) 629-2512

National Lawyers Guild (NLG): (212) 679-5100

National Immigration Law Center (NILC): (213) 639-3900

NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (NAACP LDF): (212) 965-2200

National Immigration Project: (617) 227-9727

Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF): (800) 328-2322

South Asian American Leaders of Tomorrow (SAALT): (310) 270-1855

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (UCCR): (800) 552-6843