What to do if you are stopped by the police

There are 3 distinct categories of police interference with a citizen’s liberties: Conversation, Detention and Arrest. It is important to identify your situation so you know your rights, and remember, anything you say can and will be used against you! Stay calm and in control of your words and actions at all times.

LEVEL I - Conversation

Police officers have the same right as any other citizen to approach you and inquire about circumstances of interest. However, absent any reasonable suspicion that you are involved in criminal activity, an officer cannot detain you.

You do not have to provide identification to an officer at this level unless you are in a motor vehicle. This includes non-US citizens. You do not have to provide any information to a police officer about your immigration status. You have the right to an interpreter at any time. Excercise this right and make sure you understand what is being asked of you.

You do not have to answer any questions. Minors (citizens under 18 years of age) do not have to answer any questions by police unless a parent or attorney is present. If you do answer questions, make sure any response you provide is correct.

Determine if you are in a Level I situation by asking If you are free to leave. If so, leave.

LEVEL II - Detention [ you are not free to leave ]

If an officer reasonably suspects you have been involved in a crime, they may detain you for questioning. You may invoke your 5th amendment rights and remain silent. You must provide identification upon request at this level (name, address, d.o.b.). Giving false information is a crime.

You do not have to consent to a search. However,

  • if the police have probable cause or
  • a warrant

your consent is not required. Even if this is the case, never verbally consent; simply repeat “I do not consent to this search."

If the police say they have a warrant, ask to see it.

Police may pat down your clothing if they have a reasonable suspicion that you are carrying a concealed weapon; do not physically resist but make it clear that you do not consent to any further search.

What you choose to say to the police is important - it can be used against you later and can provide the police with probable cause to arrest you.

Police are allowed to lie to you.

Don’t run away even if you believe what is happening to you is unreasonable or unlawful; this may lead to your arrest and injury.

Remember officers' names and badge numbers and write down everything about the incident as soon as possible.

LEVEL III - Arrest

You have the right to remain silent - wait for your attorney before saying anything.

Ask for an attorney immediately upon being taken into custody. Repeat this demand as often as necessary.

If you refuse to provide a name and address while in custody, you will not be eligible for release or a court-appointed attorney in most circumstances.

Within a reasonable time, the police must allow you to make a phone call to your attorney and they may not legally listen to that call - but assume they will.

Do not talk to fellow arrestees regarding the circumstances of the arrest - you never know who might be listening.

You must be provided adequate medical care while in custody. If you are on medication, inform the jail of that fact immediately and repeatedly, in writing if possible.

If you have dietary restrictions for health or religious reasons, the jail may be required to provide you with alternative meals. Inform the jail of your dietary needs as soon as you arrive. If the jail fails to accommodate those needs, begin the grievance process immediately.

Transgendered people have the right to be safe while in custody. Inform jail staff of issues of concern.

What Happens Next?

Either while in custody, or shortly upon your release, you will be required to appear in court for an arraignment hearing.

Plead NOT GUILTY to all charges. Apply for a court appointed attorney if you so choose. You will receive a future court date to appear.

Make contact with your attorney as soon as possible. It is your responsibility to remain in contact with your attorney, this may be frustrating, but will be essential to your defense!

If you remain in custody, you have a right to a jury trial within 60 days in Oregon and Washington, or 30 in California. Other states have similar laws.

If you choose to go to trial, it may be your responsibility to locate and secure witnesses on your behalf.

If you are found guilty at trial, or elect to plead guilty, you are allowed to delay sentencing at least 48 hours. At the sentencing hearing, you may be ordered to serve jail time, so be prepared to report to jail immediately.

IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS, contact the Civil Liberties Defense Center at 541-687-9180 or info@cldc.org.