Columbus BlackBlog Series Vol. 1, Blog Series Vol. 2, Marcus A. Ross

Pullover ImageWhen encountering law enforcement there are certain basic steps you should take to protect yourself against violations of your constitutional rights or police misconduct. The 4th Amendment, 5th Amendment and 6th Amendments are triggered when encountering law enforcement during a consensual or nonconsensual traffic or investigatory stop. This 10 step guideline will provide some basic do’s and don’ts which will enable you to protect yourself by using the procedural and substantive safeguards of the United States Constitution and pragmatic tips on navigating an encounter with a member of law enforcement:


Rule#1 Always be calm and cool. During encounters with police, be polite and cooperative at all times. Control your words and tone of voice. By engaging in a professional demeanor you will diffuse versus escalate an encounter with an officer who may be openly hostile during a routine traffic stop or other nonconsensual encounter. During traffic stops in particular, pull over right away, place your hands on the wheel and place your interior light on so the officer can see inside the vehicle when he/she approaches.

Rule#2 You have the right to remain silent. The 5th Amendment to the Constitution provides in pertinent part: ‘No person shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” Do not volunteer information to the officer that can be later used against you in a court of law. In some states you are required to give your name upon request if stopped on the street and there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, but you may assert your right to remain silent upon further questioning. If you are placed under arrest pursuant to a traffic stop or investigatory stop you should continue to assert your right to refuse to answer questions.

Rule#3: You have the right to refuse searches. Under the 4th Amendment you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in your person, vehicle or home. By refusing to consent to searches you are asserting your 4th Amendment right against unreasonable searches or seizures. If the officer does not have a valid signed search warrant stating with particularity the items he/she is searching for or reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity you are not required to grant the officers request for a search. An officer may pat you down for weapons, referred to as a “stop and frisk” for officer safety, but beyond the scope of this initial pat down of your outer clothing, you may refuse a search which infringes on your right of privacy.

Rule#4: Don’t get tricked. Never let officers false threats, promises or coercion induce you to waive your constitutional rights. Police may subject you to questioning or ask you to exit your vehicle during a routine traffic stop and/or misrepresent facts to influence you to consent to a search of your person, vehicle or home in an effort to get you to waive your right to remain silent or consent to a unreasonable search. Mental discipline in continuing to assert your right to remain silent and that you want to assert your 6th Amendment right to an Attorney is critically important to obtaining a favorable outcome in the event you are criminally charged.

Rule#5 Determine if you are free to go. During a routine traffic stop or non consensual investigatory encounter you may ask at any time: “ Officer am I being detained or am I free to go?.” By inquiring as to whether you are being detained you will put a member of law enforcement on notice that you are asserting your constitutional rights and that he/she should inform you as to the basis of the stop. Unless you are detained or arrested you may terminate the encounter at any time.

Rule#6 Don’t expose yourself . Common sense and pragmatism can prevent you from heightening the suspicion of law enforcement.

Rule#7 Don’t run from police.Running from police can be a basis for police to form reasonable suspicion of criminal activity and probable cause for an arrest.

Rule#8 Never touch a police officer. Always verbally refuse to consent to searches of your person, vehicle, home or personal effects. Never physically touch a police officer. You can be criminally charged with disorderly conduct, resisting arrest or assault on a police officer if you inappropriately touch an officer during a consensual or nonconsensual encounter.

Rule#9: Report misconduct: Be a good witness. After an encounter with police in which you feel your constitutional rights have been violated or civil liberties infringed upon, make sure to document the encounter. Remember the order/sequence of events, the officer(s) name, badge number. Collect witness names and statements who were present during the encounter. Law enforcement agencies keep a record of complaints filed by citizens against officers within the division of police and these complaints can be used as a basis to take administrative discipline against the officer or further legal action.

Rule#10: You don’t have to let them in: If law enforcement comes to your personal residence requesting permission to enter, you are not required to let them enter your residence. In the absence of a valid signed search warrant(by a Judge) which states with particularity the items to be searched, or reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity, you may refuse consent to allow law enforcement to enter your residence.

Although this is not an all inclusive or exhaustive list, it is a starting point to a successful encounter with members of law enforcement.

Marcus A. Ross is a former Assistant Prosecutor with the criminal division of the Columbus, Ohio City Attorney’s office and Associate with the Law Firm of Skinner & Associates. For an initial consultation, feel free to contact us at:(614)664-0200 or visit our website at: www.skinnerattorneys.com.