The news is filled with stories about people getting arrested. You’ve also probably read about innocent people getting arrested, convicted, and spending years in prison before being released. The message is that even if you don’t think you will ever be arrested, the possibility exists. That being the case, it pays to know your rights in advance.

Don’t allow a search.

You have rights. If you haven’t been arrested and you’re just curious what to do and not do; the first things to understand are that you have constitutional rights and you should be polite.

If police approach you, stay calm and don’t run. If police start talking to you, ask if you are free to go. Police cannot hold you unless they have a reasonable suspicion that you broke the law or are about to break the law. If the officer says that you are free to go, calmly walk away. If you are not free to go, keep calm and ask for a lawyer. 

Officers almost always ask to search people, cars, homes, purses, etc. If a cop asks to search you, you should politely say no. The fact that the officer asked for permission means that he can’t search you unless you agree to it. Do not agree to a search. Officers can be very persuasive and confident. Don’t let them bully you; just say no to a search.

It’s important to remember to be polite. Officers have a tough job and they are not always polite, so you need to be calm and cool. Sometimes, the civilian must be the voice of reason to calm everybody down. You should politely say, “I do not allow a search, and I want a lawyer.”

Do not resist.

Resisting the police can be tempting if they are harassing you for no apparent reason. If an officer arrests you, do not fight with the cop. Do not ever resist arrest. Not only will it likely get you beat up, but resisting arrest is a separate criminal offense.

Courts are filled with cases where people resisted arrest and ended up getting hurt and charged with assaulting police. Cops have guns, pepper spray, batons, and back up. They have the advantage in any struggle. It’s tough to accept, but if you’re arrested, you need to go with the flow and sort everything out later in court.

You also need to keep your hands visible and don’t make sudden movements. Reaching towards your pockets, waistband, purse, glovebox, etc. will make the officer feel threatened. A lot of people get shot in those situations. Do what the officer says and do it calmly.

Your only words: I want a lawyer.

Every criminal attorney, law professor, and honest judge will tell you to “lawyer up”. The only thing you should say to a cop, other than giving them your name, is “I want a lawyer.” 

If police book you into jail, you can answer questions about your height and weight, and general background questions, but don’t discuss anything about why you were arrested. Most jails will allow you to make a phone call. Try to get a lawyer.

Some people think that they should talk to the police if their accusations are minor, or if there’s a good excuse or reason, or something that the police should know, or if they genuinely believe they are innocent of any wrongdoing. Do not make that mistake. The police are going to hear what they want to hear, and you have no idea what they are going to write down. Officers get it wrong, and people often say things that are later used against them. When an officer gives Miranda Warnings one of the lines is “anything you say can and will be used against you.” Make no mistake, they will absolutely use your statements against you. Do not help the police. Keep your trap shut other than asking for a lawyer. Even innocent people get convicted, and the surest way to make that happen is by talking to the police.

Seriously, don’t talk to the police. They already think that you’ve broken the law. After they arrest you, all they are looking for is proof of your crime. Here’s a common scenario: Cops arrest a guy for allegedly punching a neighbor. Guy denies punching the neighbor. Guy says, “I don’t like my neighbor, but I didn’t punch him.” The cop will then write in his report, “Neighbor says Guy hit him. Guy admitted not liking neighbor, and minimized assault.” There are also a lot of cases in which people actually make admissions to crimes as they deny other offenses. Yes, that kind of craziness happens all the time. Do not talk to the police.

The other best advice is that once arrested, you should say nothing to anyone including fellow inmates and defendants. Not only are police and corrections officers probably listening to and recording you and everyone you talk to. They are also reading your mail. Everything you say or write will be used against you by prosecutors if they can.

The only way to protect your rights is to speak with a lawyer. Even if you think that you did something wrong, heck, especially if you think that you did something wrong, talk to a lawyer. Likewise, if you did nothing wrong, speak to a lawyer. A lot of innocent people could have avoided wrongful convictions had they simply spoken to a lawyer and not police.

You have a right to a lawyer.

If you demand a lawyer, police MUST provide one to you. It is still important to keep your mouth shut until your lawyer shows up. Too many people ask for a lawyer, then just start talking to police. A cop’s best tool for getting people talking is silence. People hate silence. You might, too. Don’t fall for the silence trick. 

Whether you can afford a lawyer or not, once you demand one, officers must stop talking to you. You are entitled to a lawyer at every important part of a case. At some point, they will have to get you a lawyer. 

Don’t trust the police.

Police are not only allowed to lie to you, but they are trained to lie to you. They will lie to gain your trust. They will lie to make you insecure. They will lie to give you hope. They lie to manipulate you into providing them with information they can use against you and against others. Do not trust police and do not speak to them.

Officers know that after your arrest you will be scared and stressed out. This is the time to remain strong and wait for your lawyer. Most of us grew up believing that the police are here to serve and protect. We’re also taught to respect their authority. That’s all fine, but there are enough bad officers out there that you should be wary and guarded. As you read earlier and probably know, there are dirty cops, and innocent people get convicted. 

Some police are not beyond lying to frame guilty people, too. Most cops do their jobs the right way, but some don’t. They’ll tell you that if you confess, you’ll get a shorter sentence, and all kinds of other BS. Don’t believe them. Only a prosecutor can make you promises about a deal. Ask for a lawyer and be quiet.

Visit your attorney asap.

You need to get together with your attorney as soon as possible. It will be important to prepare a list of witnesses with their contact information and a short summary of what you think that they might know or testify to.