Tips for Encounters With New York Police

Interactions with police almost always produce a moment of panic for those stopped, searched, questioned or arrested by an officer. Fear, outrage and a rush of adrenaline are all common when dealing with police who suspect you of breaking the law. This is true of traffic stops, frisks and home searches.

Controlling those emotions and acting in your own rational self-interest is the key to protecting your rights.

How You Act, What You Say Matters

Acting calm and polite is easier said than done when in an encounter with law enforcement, but polite behavior goes a long way. If a police officer intends to issue a traffic ticket, detain you for questioning or arrest you, acting angry or confrontational will not help matters or prevent the officer from carrying out his or her intended actions.

Most important, know that you do not have to incriminate yourself. Most people are familiar with the Miranda warning and its informational phrase "you have the right to remain silent." An officer must read a suspected criminal the Miranda warning when placing him or her under arrest, but not before. Yet anything said before or after the Miranda warning can be used against you in court.

Again, this can be difficult under the circumstances; you may want to defend your innocence. It could all be a misunderstanding. Still, you can harm yourself by saying too much. The old saying, "I didn't do anything wrong, so I have nothing to worry about" is not true. Innocent people have harmed themselves unintentionally even by answering seemingly simple questions.

Your rights also depend on the circumstances and what the police are attempting to do:

  • A police stop or search of your person: If the police detain you, frisk you or suspect you of committing a crime, they can detain you for a short time. If police do detain you, you should ask if you are under arrest or if you can leave. New York law does not require individuals to carry an ID and you do not have to show ID to a police officer unless arrested.
  • A police stop or search of your car: The police can pull you over if they have probable cause to believe you are committing an illegal activity. This would include suspicion of driving under the influence or other traffic violations. Once stopped, police can search your car if there is ''articulable and reasonable suspicion'' there is contraband in the vehicle. Anything plainly visible in the vehicle can be seized as evidence.
  • A police search of your home: Police can only enter your home if you consent or if they have a search warrant. If they do have a warrant, ask to see it and verify the address is correct.

You can also report police misconduct. Civil remedies also exist if the police use excessive force in interactions with suspected criminals.

If you have been the subject of a false arrest, keep in control of your emotions and actions; do not run, fight or resist arrest. Above all, if arrested, make sure to retain an experienced criminal defense lawyer who can fight for you throughout the entire process, from a police interrogation to trial, to ensure your rights are protected.