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If you are stopped by police, know your rights

If you've ever been stopped by a police officer, you know how intimidating it can be. Even before the officer says anything to you, panic can quickly set in. At that moment, you may be trying to remember what you can and can't - or should and should not - say and do.

When you're not sure what to do, it becomes very easy to say or do something that can create bigger problems than you may be facing in the moment. Of course, the best way to avoid this situation is to know your rights and responsibilities when interacting with police officers.

What are your rights?

If you are stopped by an officer in the street or pulled over while driving, you have rights. In either of these situations, you have the right to:

· Leave the situation in a calm manner if you are not under arrest. Often it is best to first ask police if you are free to leave. If they say yes, you may walk away. It is best to do so quietly and calmly.

· Remain silent. You should tell the officer that you are exercising your right to remain silent, even if he or she tells you that you will be arrested if you choose not to speak with him or her. This is the most important thing that you can do to protect yourself. Y ou are obligated to provide your identification and other documentation such as proof of insurance and registration if you are stopped.

· Refuse to consent to a search. Police don't always need your consent to search you, your vehicle or your home. However, if they ask for your consent, you have the right to say no.

· Invoke your right to counsel. If you do decide that you want to provide information to the police, you should not do so without a lawyer present. Tell the officer clearly that you do not want to talk to him or her without the advice of counsel.

How should you interact with police?

To best protect yourself, it is important to stay calm when interacting with police. Even if the officer is not kind to you, staying calm and in control of your actions can keep the situation from escalating.

To the extent that you choose to speak with the police, it is important to be truthful and to not obstruct police activity. Lying to police and obstructing justice can both lead to criminal charges.

What to do after an interaction with police

If you can, write down what happened during your encounter with police as soon as possible. This will help you remember exactly what happen in case you need to describe the situation to a lawyer or someone else.

If you believe your rights were violated during your encounter with police, it is important to talk to an attorney. Your attorney can help you determine whether police did violate your rights and how best remedy the situation.

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