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How to Handle a Police Stop

A large part of a police officer’s job is to develop evidence that will lead to a conviction. At every stage of your encounter with the officer, you must assume that they are seeking evidence from you or your surroundings that could land you in jail.

If you believe that you may be stopped by the police in the near future, or if you believe that you may be a suspect, you should enlist my aid as soon as possible by calling (301) 556-8709. I can give you specific advice relevant to your particular situation, and I may sometimes even be able to stop a prosecution before charges are filed.

Be Polite, Remain Silent, and Assert Your Legal Rights

An initial “Hello, Officer” without more is polite and will not hurt you – but after those two words, there are only two categories of responses to an officer that are useful:

  1. Silence, and
  2. An assertion of your legal rights that you have memorized beforehand, or carry with you.
    • “I do not consent to any search.”
    • “I am not comfortable answering any questions without an attorney present.”
    • “Am I free to leave?”

The officer has a plan for his interaction with you. You also need to have a plan if you want to be successful.

You playing a game against a much more experienced adversary with your freedom at stake. The Officer will likely be more levelheaded than you and will remain capable of following a complex plan, because your interaction with him is relatively ordinary. He knows that there is no possibility that he will go to jail if he loses. You will be acutely aware that your freedom is on the line, and will be, at best, somewhat anxious. If your interaction with the officer becomes complex, the officer’s superior experience and other advantages will result in near certain victory. Therefore, you must follow simple rules that will minimize your interactions with the officer.

You must resist with your silence, and your forceful but polite memorized assertions of your rights. If the officer orders you out of the car, or arrests you, or orders you to get out of the way, cooperate with them physically while saying, “I do not consent to any search.”

Do not physically resist or unnecessarily antagonize the officer – it will only make things worse. To you, the officer is a threat to your freedom that you must politely resist. To a police officer, your encounter is just part of the job. Try not to take the encounter personally – the officer likely has no personal feelings toward you whatsoever.

Officers will often use their own expressions of annoyance with you in order to encourage you to speak, to consent to a search, or to remain present when you are free to leave. They may make it seem if you do not “cooperate” with them, you will go to jail, when the exact opposite is true. Remember that the officer is asking you to “cooperate” in your own conviction. If you are effectively handling the situation by remaining silent and asserting your rights, the officer may become frustrated by that alone, as the vast majority of people are not disciplined enough to remain silent when actually confronted by a police officer. In these situations, the officer’s annoyance may be genuine, but it means that you are performing well, not badly.

Remember that the officer has been professionally trained to manipulate and lie to suspects in order to induce them to incriminate themselves. The officer also has had the opportunity to practice on a daily basis for years. If a police officer speaks to you, irrespective of what he may say to the contrary, you must assume that he is doing so because you are a suspect.

Your Normal Social Reflexes Will Not Help You

You have been culturally conditioned to behave in certain ways when interacting with other human beings. Police officers know this, and will use social and cultural norms against you in your encounters with them. You will have to engage every ounce of will to resist your day to day tendencies in interacting with others.

Social Reflexes:

  1. Walking away is either rude or cowardly.
  2. Stone faced silence is a bizarre or cowardly response.
  3. When someone asks you a question, or talks to you, you are expected to talk back.
  4. If you are disgusted by a comment or question, you are frequently expected to express that disgust.

Effective Interaction With A Police Officer:

  1. If you can walk away, or leave, do so as soon as possible. It is safe to say “I’m sorry, but I’m very busy right now”. Do not elaborate or say anything else, particularly about what you might be busy doing. You do not owe the officer any justification.
  2. If you can’t leave, the only good response is silence, intersped with the nonresponsive answer of “I’m sorry officer, but I’m not comfortable answering any questions without an attorney present. I do not consent to any search.” And that is all. All other responses, no matter how helpful they may seem to you at the time, are not helpful. Feel free to repeat either of those sentences, especially the second one if the officer appears to be conducting some sort of search or test on you.
  3. If you are not sure whether or not you can leave, ask, “Officer, am I free to leave?” Repeat the question if necessary, insist on an unambiguous answer. If you can’t get an unambiguous answer, say that you wish to leave, and that you will leave unless ordered to stay. Then leave.

There are a some cases where you are required by law to do something, or may be punished if you do not. Some examples are below.

When You May Be Punished for Noncompliance:

  1. You may have to sign a ticket. It must say something to the effect that your signature is not an admission of guilt, which is usually in fine print near where you sign it. You are signing the ticket to indicate that you received the ticket, and that you will appear in court as required. If you do not sign, the officer may arrest you.
  2. If you are driving, produce your valid license, registration, and/or insurance information when asked.
  3. If you are cited for a crime, produce valid identification.
  4. In Maryland, where there is no federal jurisdiction, you are allowed to refuse a breath test or blood test, but you will face severe administrative penalties for doing so. It is sometimes advantageous to refuse the test. You can and should ask to consult an attorney before making this decision. The police are required to allow you to do so, as long as it will not unreasonably delay the test.
  5. Within Federal Jurisdiction, you are required to consent to a breath or blood test.

You Are Not Required to Perform Field Sobriety Tests in Maryland

An officer may ask you to perform one or more field sobriety tests in order to collect evidence necessary for an arrest, and eventually a conviction. The Walk and Turn, One-Leg Stand, and Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus tests are standardized field sobriety tests (SFSTs) that you may have heard of, but there are also a variety of other field sobriety tests that the officers sometimes use, including math problems, counting, or finger exercises. The officer may also ask you to submit to a portable breath test using a small hand-held device. You do not have to perform any field sobriety tests. They are not required by Maryland law, and you should generally refuse to participate in any of them. Please note, however, that while declining to perform a field sobriety test will help prevent the officer from acquiring evidence necessary to lawfully arrest and convict you, the officer will often arrest you anyway.

You can do a great job handling the situation and still get arrested. The officer may have decided that he was going to arrest you before you even saw him. It isn’t over. At every step, you need to avoid giving the authorities anything that can be used against you in court.

What to do After You Have Been Arrested