The information below is accurate to the authors’ knowledge at the time it was written. This is general information and is not a substitute for legal advice.

Whenever you are interacting with law enforcement, the following may be helpful to avoid escalating the situation. 

  • Stay calm. 
  • Keep your hands where the officer can see them and do not touch the officer.
  • Do not run. 
  • Do not argue with, resist, or obstruct the police, even if you are innocent or the police are violating your rights. 
  • Do not provide false information or documents

If you are driving a car:

  • Stop the car in a safe place as quickly as possible. 
  • Open the window partway and place your hands on the wheel.

Your constitutional rights during police encounters

Regardless of your immigration or citizenship status, you have constitutional rights while you are in the United States. 

  • If you are stopped by police, you have a right to know why. Ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, calmly and silently leave the area. 
  • You have the right to remain silent and cannot be punished for refusing to answer questions. If you wish to remain silent, tell the officer out loud. Additional considerations about your right to remain silent:
    • In Iowa, you are not required to give your name if asked to identify yourself, but not doing so may be suspicious. 
    • If you are driving a car, you must provide your driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance upon request. 
    • You do not have to discuss your immigration or citizenship status with police, immigration agents, or any other officials. 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. However, different rules apply at international borders and airports and for individuals on certain non-immigrant visas, including tourists and business travelers.
    • Always carry your immigration documents with you. If an immigration agent requests your immigration documents, you must comply. If you do not have immigration documents, say you want to remain silent. Do not lie about your citizenship status or provide fake documents.
  • You do not have to consent to a search of yourself, your belongings, or your home. However, there are exceptions that allow an officer to conduct a search without your consent: 
    • Police may pat down your clothing if they suspect you have a weapon. You should not physically resist, but you have the right to refuse consent for any further search. 
    • If police believe your car contains evidence of a crime, your car can be searched without your consent.
    • Police can enter your home without your consent if they have a valid search warrant. You have the right to inspect the warrant.
    • There are other situations where police can search without your consent. If you have questions, contact SLS or another attorney.
  • You have the right to record the police, but you cannot interfere with them.

Police encounters at protests

  • Police may not break up a gathering unless there is a clear and present danger of riot, disorder, interference with traffic, or other immediate threat to public safety.
  • If officers issue a dispersal order, they must provide a reasonable opportunity to comply, including sufficient time and a clear, unobstructed exit path.
  • Police must treat protesters and counter-protesters equally. Police are permitted to keep antagonistic groups separated but should allow them to be within sight and sound of one another.
  • If you are concerned that a protest may attract police attention, memorize the phone number of a friend, family member, or lawyer in case you need to contact them for assistance. 

If you are arrested 

Say you wish to remain silent and do not talk about the circumstances leading up to the arrest. 

  • You have the right to make a local phone call, including to a lawyer. Keep in mind that the officer will hear your side of the conversation.
  • If you do not understand an officer’s question or a court document, you can ask for an interpreter.
  • You have the right to be represented by an attorney, but the officers are not required to find an attorney and bring them to you at the police station. If you cannot afford an attorney, a judge may appoint one to represent you in your case.
  • You have the right to plead not guilty when you see the judge, even if you believe you might be guilty. Be aware that paying a fine is equivalent to pleading guilty.
  • Criminal charges may affect your immigration status. Talk to a lawyer before you plead guilty.

If your rights have been violated

  • Police misconduct cannot be challenged on the street. Do not physically resist officers.
  • Write down everything you remember, including officers' badge and patrol car numbers and which agency the officers were from. Get contact information for witnesses. If you are injured, seek medical attention and take photographs of your injuries. 
  • You can file a written complaint with the agency's internal affairs division or appropriate civilian complaint board.
  • You may also have grounds for a lawsuit. If you have questions about an encounter with police, contact SLS or another attorney.

Also under Criminal Law:

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Fake IDs

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Deferred Judgment

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Paying Your Fines

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