Even if you have done nothing wrong, an encounter with the police can be stressful. Your stress may increase if you believe that the officer may be profiling you on the basis of your race or ethnicity. In a situation such as this, it is important to stay calm throughout the encounter. It is also important to be aware of your rights so that you can assert them if necessary.
The Constitution of the United States protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures and from self-incrimination. Be aware of the following rights when stopped by police.
- You have the right to remain silent
In other words, you do not have to say anything to the police that may incriminate you. However, you must verbally express your wish to remain silent. Simply choosing not to speak may come across as uncooperativeness.
- You do not need to answer questions about citizenship
Except at airports and other ports of entry, you do not generally have to answer questions about where you were born, how you entered the country or your citizenship status.
- You do not need to consent to a search
Law enforcement may wish to conduct a search of your person or your belongings. Nevertheless, you do not have to give them your consent to do so.
- If arrested, you have the right to an attorney
By law, the government must appoint an attorney to you if you cannot afford to hire one yourself. This applies any time you are facing charges that may carry a penalty of jail time.
Asserting your rights will not necessarily prevent officers from violating them, but it will help you to make your case if you decide to file a complaint. However, if you can demonstrate to the agency or the court that you refused consent, you may be able to prove that the officer(s) behaved improperly.