What to Do If Police Stop You on the Street

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on November 19, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

It's all well and good to know a little about criminal law and your right to an attorney. But if you're stopped by police on the street, there are specific things you need to know.

This isn't a time to rely on your vast knowledge of "Law and Order" or "CSI" to figure out what to do. How you interact with police is important, and it could be the difference between "you're under arrest" and "you're free to go."

Like everything having to do with law, there are specific rules about what is and isn't allowed. Get to know the rules and you can feel more in control if you're stopped by police.

Once police stop you, the first thing you want to do is figure out what the officer thinks is happening. When you're pulled over in a car, the officer generally tells you right away what's wrong, but that doesn't always happen during a stop on the street.

If no one is telling you why you're being stopped, ask "Am I being detained?"

That language is really important. If police are detaining you, then at that point you are entitled to a lawyer before you answer any questions.

If you are being detained, don't answer questions and clearly tell the officer you want to speak to an attorney.

Anything you say while you're stopped can be used against you. Even if you think the stop is illegal or unfair, it's better to wait for an attorney than to open your mouth and get yourself in trouble.

If officers tell you that you aren't being detained, then ask them if you're free to leave. Just walking away could cause problems, but politely asking if you can leave lets officers know that you know your rights without being confrontational.

If at any point they say you can't leave, you can consider yourself detained. Again, that's when you should ask for an attorney. Giving police seemingly innocent information without legal counsel can get potentially get you in even more trouble, so don't make it an option.

Knowing what to do if police stop you on the street can go a long way in preventing arrest. Have another question about police stops? Ask the experts at FindLaw Answers' Criminal Law Forum.

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