Q & A: What to Do When Confronted by Police

June 12, 2012 · by rosenblumlawfirm · in

Q: Do I have to talk to the police if they stop me?

A: No. If you get stopped on the street or in your car, you are under no legal obligation to talk to them.

However, if you do not, at a minimum, verbally acknowledge their presence and act courteously, you will be shooting yourself in the foot.

It is important for you to walk a fine line here. Never incriminate yourself, but do not lie either. When in doubt say nothing or courteously tell the officer that you plan to leave unless he is going to arrest you.

Q: Can I run away from the officer?

A: No. We cannot stress this enough. If you run from an officer, you will be giving him probable cause to suspect that you are engaging in unlawful conduct.

Moreover, the law will consider you a “fleeing suspect,” which allows an officer to act in all sorts of ways without first obtaining a warrant.

This means any search, seizure, arrest, etc. that the officer engages in will almost certainly be lawful. Be careful not  to let the police officer think you are tying to resisting arrest. In the end, running away can only hurt you.

Q: Will the officer tell me when I am free to leave?

A: No. Police are under no obligation to tell you that you are free to leave. In other words, they will continue to ask you questions even when you truly are under no obligation to remain where you are.

They do this to try to ascertain more information about you and the activities you are engaging in.

To avoid this, directly ask the officer if you are free to leave. If the officer hedges or avoids answering you, announce to him that you are going to walk away.

If he does not threaten to arrest you, begin to slowly walk away. Remember, like we already said, never run away.

However, this is completely different if you are pulled over in a vehicle. The presumption is you are free to go only after the officer issues you a ticket, gives you a warning, or signals to you that you can drive away. Never drive away prematurely, no matter how slowly.

Q: Where do I have an expectation of privacy?

A: The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution gives you the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures in all areas where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy.

The law presumes that you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in your home, car, place of business, and personal effects.

However, you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in someone else’s home, car, place of business or personal effects.

Also, you will not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in anything that you put out to the curb for collection (even garbage in an opaque bag), have in an open field, or left in the public domain.

Q: Can the police search my stuff if someone else consents to the search?

A: It depends. If you and another person mutually use property and have joint access or control for most purposes over it, then that other person can consent for law enforcement officers to search common areas of the property.

However, a police officer will not be allowed to obtain consent to search a locked room that is not a common area from the other person.

Therefore, if you share an apartment, make sure to have anything you do not want found by police locked inside your room and out of the common area.

It is important to know that if your spouse gives consent and an officer finds drugs belonging to you, in most cases they can be used against you which means you can be charged with drug possession.

In most other cases though, a third-party will not be allowed to give consent to a search of your possessions.

Q: The police used a dog to sniff me and they did not have a warrant, is that an illegal search?

A: No. Not only is this not an illegal search, the Supreme Court has ruled that this is not even a “search” at all in most cases.

A warrantless dog sniff performed by a well-trained narcotic detecting dog is not a search unless it exposes non-contraband items that would otherwise have remained hidden from public view.

This means if a police officer used a dog to sniff you (or even around your car) and the dog signaled that drugs were present, those drugs are admissible in court and can be used against you.

Q: The police arrested me and then searched me without a warrant, is that legal?

A: Yes, in most circumstances it is legal for an officer to do this. It is called a search incident to a lawful arrest.

However, a search incident to a lawful arrest must be conducted properly. Otherwise, any evidence found can be excluded.

In order for it to be done properly, the officer must conduct the search contemporaneously with your arrest and can only search an area where you can grab something with relative ease (e.g. anything on your person, an unlocked area close by, etc.)


See our page on frequently asked questions about drug possession of more information about drug caught with drugs in New Jersey.