Any encounter with police can be intimidating and lead to the nervous temptation of speaking too much. But you have legal rights which may be important to your criminal defense.

Police may stop a person who is a witness but not a suspect. Police can also stop you as suspect if you meet the physical description of someone involved in a crime. Police must have clear, specific and an unbiased reason, known as probable cause, for suspecting that you took part in a crime or that you are armed and dangerous.

Ask if you may leave after police stop you. If police grant permission, calmly leave immediately.

During their search, police may pat the outside of your clothing. They may not squeeze or reach into your pockets unless the officer believes they felt a weapon during the pat down. You should tell the police that you do not consent to the search. Do not voluntarily empty your pockets or reach towards your waistband as the police approach.

Police must also have probable cause that you committed a traffic offense if they stop you in your car. The officer may ask for your license, registration and proof of insurance. They cannot search the car trunk unless they have probable cause, a search warrant or believe that you are armed and dangerous. Police can search your car if they see anything illegal.

When stopped, you should stop immediately and turn off the ignition. Place your hands on the steering wheel and tell the police you do not consent to a search. Do not consent to a search of your vehicle or your personal belongings.

You should not reach for any items without the officer’s instructions. Write down badge and car numbers and everything that happened.

Police need probable cause to arrest you. Stay silent and tell the police that you do not want to answer any questions. Request to speak to a lawyer immediately.  As soon as possible, write down everything that happened.

In any police encounter, do not resist or fight or reach suddenly for any items in your clothing. Later, you may file a complaint later or your attorney can bring up any alleged police misconduct.

It is essential that you remember your right to speak to an attorney. A lawyer can protect your rights and block the use of improperly seized evidence against you.