Being stopped by police is a stressful experience that can go bad quickly. Here we describe what the law requires and also offer strategies for handling police encounters. We want to be clear: The burden of de-escalation does not fall on private citizens — it falls on police officers. However, you cannot assume officers will behave in a way that protects your safety or that they will respect your rights even after you assert them. You may be able to reduce risk to yourself by staying calm and not exhibiting hostility toward the officers. The truth is that there are situations where people have done everything they could to put an officer at ease, yet still ended up injured or killed.

Your rights

  • You have the right to remain silent. For example, you do not have to answer any questions about where you are going, where you are traveling from, what you are doing, or where you live. If you wish to exercise your right to remain silent, say so out loud. (In some states, you may be required to provide your name if asked to identify yourself, and an officer may arrest you for refusing to do so.)
  • You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings, but police may pat down your clothing if they suspect a weapon. Note that refusing consent may not stop the officer from carrying out the search against your will, but making a timely objection before or during the search can help preserve your rights in any later legal proceeding.
  • If you are arrested by police, you have the right to a government-appointed lawyer if you cannot afford one.
  • You do not have to answer questions about where you were born, whether you are a U.S. citizen, or how you entered the country. (Separate rules apply at international borders and airports as well as for individuals on certain nonimmigrant visas, including tourists and business travelers. For more specific guidance about how to deal with immigration-related questions, see our immigrants’ rights section.)

If you are stopped for questioning:

Q.If you are stopped for questioning:
A.
  • What you say to police officers is always important. Anything you say can be used against you, and it can give the police an excuse to arrest you, especially if you bad-mouth a police officer. You don’t have to answer a police officer’s questions, but you must show your driver’s license and proof of insurance when stopped in a car. In most other situations, Minnesota law does not make it a crime to refuse to identify yourself to a police officer unless they reasonably suspect you are involved in a crime. But use your judgment. Refusal could lead to your arrest even if unjustified.
  • Ask the police if you are under arrest. If you are being arrested you have a right to know why.
  • You don’t have to consent to any search of yourself, your car or your house. If you do consent to a search, it can affect your rights later in court. Police may ‘pat-down’ your clothing if they suspect a concealed weapon. Don’t physically resist, but make it clear that you don’t consent to any further search. If the police say they have a search warrant, ask to see it. 
  • Don’t run away, interfere with, or obstruct the police, even if you believe what is happening is unreasonable. This could lead to your arrest.

If you are stopped in your car:

Q.If you are stopped in your car:
A.
  • Upon request, show the police officer your driver’s license and proof of insurance. In certain cases, your car may be searched without a warrant. To protect yourself later, you should make it clear that you do not consent to a search. It is unlawful for the police to arrest you simply for refusing to consent to a search.
  • If you are suspected of driving while impaired by alcohol or drugs (DWI) and you refuse to take a blood, urine or breath test, you will likely face criminal prosecution and license suspension for chemical test refusal. The penalties for chemical test refusal are often more severe than the penalties for DWI. However, you have the right to contact an attorney before being tested.

If the police come to your home:

Q.If the police come to your home:
A.
  • If the police knock and ask to enter your home, you do not have to admit them unless they have a warrant signed by a judge.
  • In some emergency situations, such as when a person is screaming for help from inside, or when someone who is being chased by the police runs into your home, officers are allowed to enter and search your home without a warrant.
  • If you are arrested, the police can search you and the area close by.

If you are arrested or taken to a police station:

Q.If you are arrested or taken to a police station:
A.
  • You have the right to remain silent and to talk to a lawyer before you talk to the police. Tell the police nothing except your name and address. Don’t give any explanations, excuses or stories. You can make your defense later, in court, based on what you and your lawyer decide is best.
  • Ask to see a lawyer immediately. If you can’t pay for a lawyer, you have the right to a free one, and should ask the police how the lawyer can be contacted. Don’t say anything without a lawyer.
  • Within a reasonable time after your arrest or booking, you have the right to make a local phone call to a lawyer, bail bondsman, relative, or any other person. The police may not listen in on your call to a lawyer.
  • Sometimes you can be released without bail, or have bail lowered. Have your lawyer ask the judge about this possibility. If you are arrested without a warrant, you must be taken before a judge within 36 hours of your arrest. The 36 hours begins to run at midnight on the day of the arrest and does not include the day of arrest, Sundays or legal holidays.
  • Do not make any decisions in your case until you have talked with a lawyer.