What To Do If You’re Stopped By Police

These recommendations were compiled by reviewing advice obtained from a number of different websites including the National Black Police Association and the ACLU. We urge you not to rely on this information as legal advice. We hope the information presented here will make you aware of some of your rights, although you should consult a lawyer for legal advice on these issues.

Basic Questions that an officer might ask:

  • What is your name?
  • Where do you live?
  • Do you have any identification?

These are very simple questions which can be easily answered by almost everyone. Most of the time, there is a reason for the officer to question you – even if it may not seem so at the time. The officer may be investigating a crime, a citizen complaint in the neighborhood, a call reporting a suspicious person, the report of a crime or the report of some other suspicious activity.

For one of the reasons listed above, or for some other reason, a police officer may stop you to ask some basic question. You are not required to speak to the police, although if you are arrested, ask for a lawyer and tell them you are invoking your right to remain silent. At this point you should do so.

If you choose to respond, it is recommended that you stay calm.

  • Don’t argue with the police officer
  • Don’t touch a police officer
  • Don’t run from a police officer
  • Keep your hands where officers can see them
  • Don’t make sudden and unexpected movements which might be considered threatening
  • Don’t resist or fight with a police officer even if you believe you are innocent
  • Know that anything you can say or do can be used against you
  • Arguing and complaining won’t help the situation but can be done later by filing a professional

You Can . . .

  • Files a complaint if you feel you were the victim of police wrongdoing
  • Film and photograph police activity if you are lawfully in the area as long as you don’t you interfere with police operation
  • Get the names, addresses and telephone numbers of witnesses
  • Get the officers, name, badge and car number
  • Write information down as soon as possible, so it won’t be forgotten

If You Are Stopped By the Police In Your Car

If you are driving a vehicle, the police can pull only pull you over for a motor vehicle offense or if they have probable cause to believe that you committed a crime.

  • You must show the officer your driver’s license, registration, and insurance card.
  • If you are stopped at night, turn on vehicle’s interior light.
  • The driver should place his hands on the steering wheel or keep them where they can easily be seen.
  • It is recommended that the passengers also make their hands visible.
  • If your windows are tinted, consider rolling them down so the officer can easily see into the vehicle.

Police can

  • Search your car if they have a warrant, are given permission to do so or develop probable cause that they will find something illegal, evidence in the car is in plain view or there is evidence of a crime after they stop your car.

Police cannot

  • Ask to search your car unless they have a specific suspicion there is evidence of a crime inside.
  • Arrest you for simply refusing to consent to a search.

The driver can be ordered out of the car by the police although the passenger can only be ordered out for specific safety concerns. If the officer suspects you are driving under the influence (DUI), you may be required to take an alcohol screening test. If you refuse, you will face the same loss of driving privileges as for a DUI offense.

If You Are Stopped By the Police On the Street

You can only be detained if the police suspect you’re involved in criminal activity. If you’re stopped, you can ask the officer, “Am I free to leave” If you are and choose not to talk to them, you should calmly walk away.

  • Police may “pat-down” or “frisk” your outer-clothing – if they suspect you are carrying a concealed weapon.
  • Don’t physically resist, but make it clear that you don’t consent to any further search.
  • Ask if you are under arrest. If you are, you have a right to know why.
  • Police may not search you, your pockets or your bags, unless they have probable cause to believe they will find evidence of a crime or you are placed under arrest.
  • New Jersey Police Officers may not request your ID or your name unless they are conducting an investigation or issuing you a summons.

If You Are In Your Home

A New Jersey Police Officer must have a warrant to enter your home, except in emergency situations such as a person screaming or some other situation which may require immediate police intervention.

  • If the officers don’t have a warrant, you can refuse to allow them to enter
  • If you are arrested in a home, the officer can search you and the area close by although it rarely exceeds the room the arrest was made unless there is evidence of some evidence warranting a further search.

If You Are Arrested or Taken To a Police Station

  • You have the right to remain silent and to talk to a lawyer before you talk to the police.
  • Tell the police nothing except your name and address.
  • Don’t provide any explanations, excuses or stories. You can make your defense later, in court, based on what you and your lawyer decides is best.
  • Within a reasonable time after your arrest and processing, you have the right to make a telephone call.
  • Consult with a lawyer to see if you can be released without bail or to request that the bail be lowered.
  • You must see the judge before the following day.
  • Do not make any decisions until you have consulted with your lawyer.