Your Rights and the Police
Authored By: American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia
Your Rights and the Police
What you say to the police is important. What you say can be used against you and can give the police an excuse to arrest you, especially if you speak disrespectfully to an officer. Remember to remain calm and be polite. Do not lie or give false documents.
You do not have to answer a police officer's questions, but you must show your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance when stopped while driving a car. You cannot be legally arrested for refusing to identity yourself to a police officer (unless you are charged with loitering or prowling).
You do not have to give your consent to any search of yourself, your car, or your home. You may say, “I do not consent to this search.” This may not stop the search, but this is the best way to protect your rights. If the police say they have a warrant, ask to see it. If they do not have a warrant and continue to search, it is important that you have made it clear that you do not consent, but do not physically resist.
Do not argue, resist, run away, interfere with, or obstruct the officer, even if you are innocent or believe the officer is wrong—you can be arrested for it. You can ask for the officer's name and badge number. If your request for information is refused, note the information you can see, and file a complaint later if you feel your rights have been violated.
If You Are Stopped for Questioning
Stay calm. Keep your hands where police can see them.
You may remain silent. If you wish to remain silent, tell the officer out loud by saying “I want to remain silent.” You do not have to answer any questions, including questions about your name, age, and address; however, it is advisable that you provide only this basic information. You do not have to show any ID unless you are operating a car, or unless the officer has probable cause to believe you have violated the law.
Ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, calmly and silently walk away. Never run from a police officer. If you are not free to leave, ask if you are under arrest. If the officer says you are under arrest, you have the right to ask why. If the officer says you are not under arrest, but you are not free to go, then you are being detained. Being detained is not the same as being arrested, but an arrest could follow. The police may frisk you for weapons by patting the outside of your clothing, but nothing more. If they search any more than this, say clearly, "I do not consent to a search." If they keep searching anyway, do not physically resist them. File a complaint later.
If You Are Stopped in Your Car
Stop the car in a safe place as quickly as possible. Turn off the car, turn on the internal light, open the window part way, and place your hands on the steering wheel.
Show your driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance upon request. If an officer asks to look inside your car, you can refuse to consent to the search. However, if police believe your car contains evidence of a crime, your car can be searched without a warrant and without your consent. To protect yourself later, make it clear that you do not consent to a search.
Drivers and passengers have the right to remain silent. If you are a passenger, you can ask if you are free to leave. Even if the officer says no, you still have the right to remain silent.
Officers can ask you to step outside of the car, and they may separate passengers and drivers from each other to question them and compare their answers, but no one has to answer any questions.
If you are given a ticket, you should sign it. If you do not, you could be arrested.
If you are suspected of driving under the influence and refuse a breath, blood, or urine test, your license can be suspended.
If You Are Arrested
Whether or not you are guilty, go with the officer. Do not resist arrest. You can make your defense in court.
Say you wish to remain silent and ask for a lawyer immediately. Tell the police nothing, except your name, age, and address. Don't give explanations or stories or try to excuse the conduct. If you can’t pay for a lawyer, you have the right to a free one. Don't talk to the police unless your lawyer is present. Keep in mind that lying to a government official is a crime but remaining silent until you consult with a lawyer is not. Even if you have already answered some questions, you can refuse to answer other questions until you have a lawyer.
You have the right to make a local phone call. The police cannot listen if you call a lawyer.
The police must give you a receipt for everything taken from you, including your wallet and its contents, clothing, jewelry, and any packages you were carrying when you were arrested. Check your receipt when you are arrested to make certain it correctly lists all the property taken from you by jail personnel.
You may be released with or without bail following booking. If not, you have the right to go into court and see a judge within 48 to 72 hours of arrest. Demand this right. When you appear before the judge, ask for a lawyer.
Don't make any decisions in your case until you have talked to an attorney.
If You Feel Your Rights Have Been Violated
Remember: police misconduct cannot be challenged on the street. Don’t physically resist officers or threaten to file a complaint.
Write down everything you remember after your interaction, including officers’ badge and patrol car numbers, nametags, or vehicle license plate number. Try to find witnesses and their names and phone numbers. If you are injured, seek medical attention and take pictures of the injuries as soon as you can.
File a written complaint with the police department’s internal affairs division or civilian complaint board.
Call a lawyer or contact the ACLU of Georgia.
This is not complete advice.
Be sure to consult a lawyer.
American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia
PO Box 77208, Atlanta, GA 30357