Arrested, Cited, or Pulled Over?
The Center for Student Legal Services strongly believes in educating students of their legal rights and responsibilities. We believe that students should be treated as adults who are capable of making informed decisions. We do NOT advocate or condone law breaking activities.
When interacting with the police, it is important to be courteous and cooperative, but you do NOT have to incriminate yourself. All citizens should know how the Constitution works and what rights all citizens have.
You can also find useful into at: www.nolo.com (Click on “Criminal Law” in the list on the left side of the page)
If you are approached by the police:
- Most importantly, use common sense. Do not run, argue or be otherwise uncooperative.
- Do not lie, but do not incriminate yourself. It is a crime to lie to a police officer, but it is not a crime to refuse to answer questions. Be polite but firm, even if the officer seems angry or is threatening you. One of the favorite sayings of our Managing Attorney is, “You can’t catch a fish if it doesn’t open its mouth.”
- You do not have to give any information other than your name and address. You do not have to present identification that shows your age, nor do you have to give a social security number or driver’s license if you are carrying other forms of identification unless you are already being arrested on another charge.
- You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings. If you give consent, you may waive your Constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search or seizure and damage your defense in court. Never voluntarily consent to a search unless you have spoken to an attorney first.
You may be arrested anyway, even if you don’t reveal your age, consent to a search or answer questions. But the MORE constitutional rights you exercise, the HARDER it is for you to be convicted.
If you are pulled over by the police while driving:
- Keep in mind that what you say to the officer is very important. It can be used against you and give the police a reason to arrest you. Even if you are outraged, don`t insult or talk back to an officer. Always be polite. You can be arrested and/or searched for arguing with or threatening an officer, fleeing, hiding potential evidence, or other suspicious activity. Stay calm. Getting upset or argumentative will only make the situation worse.
- You cannot be arrested for refusing to answer questions. It is a crime to give false information to a law enforcement officer. You must show your driver`s license, registration, and proof of your insurance. Say as little as possible beyond identifying yourself.
- You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your car. If you give consent, you may waive your Constitutional right to be free from unreasonable search or seizure and damage your defense in court. Never voluntarily consent to a search, but do not physically resist.
- If you are not under arrest and the police tell you to “hand it over” (alcohol, drugs, etc.) it can be considered consent if you do so.
- The police may legally order you to step out of your car and may “pat down” your clothing. Do not resist a pat down, but make it clear that you do not consent to any further search.
- The police do not have the right to extend the traffic stop beyond the scope of the original justification for the stop unless they have reasonable suspicion that other criminal acts are being committed. When an officer has completed giving you a warning or ticket, you are legally free to leave. Police often try to prolong the stop by asking further questions or trying to get permission to search your vehicle. It is then appropriate to ask: “Does this concern the reason you stopped me?” “Am I under arrest?” “Am I free to leave?”
- The police do not have the right to search a closed container within a car. However, if you are under arrest for some lawful reason or there is probable cause, such as evidence of a weapon or contraband in plain view or the smell of marijuana, a search without a warrant is legal. Never consent to request to remove a closed container from the vehicle or to open the trunk or glove compartment. Do not try to physically impede a search if the officer indicates he is going to do a search, just verbally make it clear that you do not consent.
Again, you may be arrested anyway, even if you don’t reveal your age, consent to a search, answer questions or “hand it over”. But the MORE constitutional rights you exercise, the HARDER it is for you to be convicted.
If you are arrested:
- You have the right to remain silent. USE IT. Do not give explanations, excuses, or stories. Save your defense for when you are in court. Tell the police nothing but your name and address. Do not feel pressured to start talking, even if the police seem to be “bullying” you or using other methods to get you to talk. The less you say, the harder it is to convict you. AN EXCEPTION: you are being charged with possession of drugs or contraband and you did not know it was there. Do not hesitate to state “it’s not mine, and I don’t know how it got there.” Do not answer other questions.
- You have the right to have “a court appointed lawyer.” If you are an Ohio University student, you have paid your student legal services fee and the criminal charge is a misdemeanor in Athens County, you can get legal representation through us. You may not be able to see a lawyer right away, but do not make any decisions about your case or talk to the police without talking to a lawyer first.
- You have the right to make phone calls. You are entitled to make phone calls within the local area to a lawyer, bail bondsman, a relative or any other person. It is a good idea to call a relative or friend first who can make other calls for you. You will probably not be able to get a hold of an attorney if it is the middle of the night, but be sure to do so as soon as you are released or as soon as a relative can do so for you.
- You have the right to appear before a judge soon after your arrest at a hearing called an arraignment. The judge will ensure that you have a copy of the complaint and that you understand the nature of the charge. The judge will then ask you to enter a plea (guilty, no contest, or not guilty.) We recommend that you plead not guilty. The reason for this is to allow you to have more time to see an attorney. If you plead guilty or no contest, the judge will sentence you at the time of arraignment and you will not have a chance to see an attorney. If you plead not guilty, your case will simply be rescheduled for another date and you will be released. Then you have time to retain legal counsel before your next court date. It is important to seek legal counsel, even if you are guilty because your attorney may be able to get a reduced sentence for you. For more information, see The Court Process page.