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Your rights during an encounter with the police

Many people are so nervous during an encounter with the police -- even if they've done nothing wrong -- that they simply assume they have to do whatever the police instruct them to do. This is not always the case. It's crucial to remember your rights.

For example, the Fourth Amendment means you can't be subjected to an unreasonable search or seizure. This does not mean you can't be searched at all, but the police do need to have probable cause and they often need a warrant to search you. You don't have to submit to a search that is being carried out illegally.

Even if you've broken no laws and you know it, you don't have to be searched if the police don't have reason to do so or a warrant. Some people think they might as well just let the police search them if they're confident in their own innocence, but this can be problematic. It lets the police step over the legal boundaries that have been set for them.

Some experts say to look at it like this: If a stranger came up to you and asked to go through your purse or your pockets, would you allow it? Clearly, you would not. Now, the police do have more power than the average citizen in some cases if you've broken the law, but they have the exact same power if you've done nothing wrong or if they have no reason to suspect you. You wouldn't let a stranger search you, so you don't have to let an officer do it, either.

If you've been illegally searched, even if evidence of a crime was found, you may be able to get that evidence thrown out of court since the police violated the Fourth Amendment.

Source: Know My Rights, "FAQs," accessed Oct. 11, 2016

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