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Know Your Rights - Encounters with Police

Posted by Seth Chazin | Jan 20, 2017 | 0 Comments

The maxim “knowledge is power” is indeed accurate when it comes to securing your rights. The Law Offices of Seth P. Chazin would like to help you understand your rights when under threat.

A law enforcement officer must never bully, harass, or tease people based on their personality traits such as; sexual orientation, ethnicity, or race. Also, an officer of the law must never exert more force than required (i.e. pepper spray, handcuffing, tasing), as inducing any sort of injury would constitute an excessive use of force.

As  long as you don't interfere with what law officers are doing, you have the legal right to record the police in public areas. Both Oakland and San Francisco have shown support for recording police officers while on duty. (sources: Oakland reaffirms citizens' right to film police and It's important for SF to get body-camera rules for police right)

In the event that you've experienced an excessive use of force, take pictures of your injuries, and see a doctor if you're hurt. Later on, write down everything you can recall such as the officer's name and badge number, what happened, and who else was there.

If you've experienced excessive use of force for recording the police during an arrest, contact the Law Offices of Seth P. Chazin

See Also: The Importance of Recording Police Interactions with Civilians

If The Police Question/Stop You

It is important to know how to interact with law enforcement if they engage with you. Never resist, run away, argue, or interfere with the officer (even if they're wrong in your opinion). You must always remain calm. You can ask whether you're free to leave. If they're fine by it, peacefully walk away. The officer might require you to identify yourself, but that should not be cause for provocation.  You can interact with them as you would any other person.

It's ideal if you proclaim your right not to speak by replying to any question with “I want to remain silent”. You're also entitled to the right, not to write/sign a statement. But if you opt to speak or write about the incident, your statement might be used against you. That is why it is very important to seek counsel with a legal professional if you are suspected of a crime.

If you wish to make a statement, you must insist on having a lawyer present, or a parent/adult (if you're a minor) present, before you're questioned. Remember,  your words can still be used against you in a court of law, so giving statements without council is not advisable..


A search is when a law enforcement officer browses through your belongings, like your pockets, car,phone, or house while looking to find evidence that a crime has been committed. Please note, you do not have to allow the  police to search through your belongings. If you deny their request, they'll have to get a warrant before they can search your private property.

If a police officer asks to search your belongings, or you, you can say “I do not consent to this search.” The odds of this stopping them are rare, but it's the ideal way to protect your rights. An officer cannot search you based on intuition, or feeling, a rumor, your skin color,  your attire, or the way you look in general. They just can't search your car or belongings based on their opinion of you, or that you “look like” a drug dealer.

The search must be pertaining to the crime you're suspected of committing. For instance, a police officer can't search your wallet/pockets if he or she think you stole a laptop -- you can't hide a laptop in your wallet. Law enforcement officers should NEVER be allowed to strip search you, either.


If you're arrested, immediately ask for a lawyer! Never resist an arrest, or fight an officer if they are arresting you. Be smart about it. A law enforcement officer can only make an arrest based on hard facts indicating your involvement in a crime. They cannot arrest you based on their intuition, a guess, or a rumor. But an officer is entitled to arrest you if he/she witnessed you commit a crime, like stealing a laptop computer.

If you need a defense attorney in the San Francisco Bay Area,  contact our office at 1-800-242-1514 or contact us online. Our consultations are always free.

About the Author

Seth Chazin

Seth P. Chazin has aggressively defended clients in thousands of felony and misdemeanor cases for over 30 years. He has extensive experience representing criminal defendants in federal and state court, while handling both state and federal appeals as well.


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“The death penalty is a lie, a misguided mistake born of anger and frustration. Capital punishment has become a perverse monument to inequality, to how some lives matter and others do not. It is a violent example of how we protect and value the rich and abandon and devalue the poor. The death penalty is a grim, disturbing shadow formed by the legacy of racial apartheid and bias against the poor that condemns the disfavored among us, but corrupts us all. It’s the perverse symbol elected officials use to strengthen their ‘tough on crime’ reputations and distract us from confronting the causes of violence. It is finally the enemy of grace, redemption and all of us who recognize that each person is more than their worse act.”
- Bryan Stevenson