Whether you get pulled over while driving a vehicle, happened to be in the wrong place when a crime was committed, or were named by someone as a person of interest, you need to know what the police can and cannot do to you. There are three different questioning classifications that are generally handled a bit differently. Know your rights whether you are going in as voluntary encounter, being detained for investigation or being arrested.

The Voluntary Encounter

A voluntary encounter can be initiated by you or by the police. If you are out in public and an officer comes up to you to start asking questions, you do not have to talk to him or her. If you do decide to talk, you can stop doing so at any point. In addition, you do not have to allow the officer to search your person or belongings; this includes your vehicle when pulled over for a traffic violation. Keep in mind, the minute you give consent to a search, it cannot be retracted.

When you hear about a crime that you may have information about, you may decide to go into the precinct to make a statement. Again, you have the right to stop any questioning at any point and refuse to be searched. One of the most important rights you have during a voluntary encounter is the right to leave. If you become uncomfortable at any point, simply ask "Can I leave?" While a police officer can twist things around during an interview, when asked specifically if you can leave, he or she must tell the truth.

Investigative Detention

Police have the right to detain you for questioning if they have reasonable suspicion that you are guilty of something, including withholding evidence. While you do have the right to remain silent, it is legal for the officer to search your person. They may also search your vehicle if they have probably cause to do so. In most cases, they are not going to perform a search if they know the action can be argued by a criminal defense lawyer.

During your detention, police officers will use a variety of tactics to try to get you to confess to something. They can lie, scare you, and keep you from sleeping. The important thing to remember is that you can ask for a lawyer at any point and they must stop the interrogation until your counsel is present. Do not believe them if you are told that they can work a deal with you if you just talk to them without your lawyer. They cannot offer anything.


If the police have sufficient evidence to arrest you, they also have enough to get a warrant and search your home for more. At this point, your rights are limited to remaining silent and having a criminal defense lawyer present. It is best for you to comply with any orders the arresting officer gives you and sit quietly.

Any time you have any interaction with the police, it is in your best interest to have an attorney present. You may think being a good citizen and going to tell the police what you witnessed is harmless. However, given the right circumstances, things can be turned around so you look guilty. Having legal counsel will ensure what you say and do is not going to be of any use against you.