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Your Rights When Contacted by the Police

It can be scary when the police contact you, and it may be hard to remember all your rights. The most important thing to keep in mind is:

Don’t talk to cops. If the police say you are free to go, you have the right to leave. If the police say you cannot leave, that means you are under arrest and have the right to remain silent. 

Ask if you are free to leave. If the police say you are free to leave, then you have the right to leave immediately. You do not have to answer their questions.

If they say you are not free to leave, that means you are under arrest. Even though you cannot leave, you should not talk to the police or answer their questions. You have the right to remain silent. This is true even if you have not been handcuffed, taken somewhere else, or had your rights read to you. You have these rights even if the police don’t read them to you or mention them to you. You can say: “I do not want to speak with you anymore. I want to talk to a lawyer.”

You can learn more under What are my rights if I am arrested? on this page. 

Ask for more information about why they are calling you, and get the contact information of the officer. You can let the officer know you will speak to a lawyer before you call back or go to the station. You can always have someone, including a lawyer, go with you to the station. It is always a good idea not to meet with the police alone. 

If the police contacted you because of something that happened during your pregnancy, including an abortion, or for helping someone end a pregnancy, call us at 844-868-2812. We can connect you with a trusted attorney before you go to the station.

Do not talk to the police without a lawyer. If you have been arrested for something that happened during your pregnancy, including an abortion, or for helping someone end a pregnancy, call us at 844-868-2812.

The police used to have to tell you your rights during an arrest. That is not true anymore, but many still do. These are called Miranda Warnings, which can sound a bit different depending on where you are, but generally, this is what it looks and sounds like:

You have the right to remain silent, anything you say or do will be used against you in the court of law.

  • This means you do not have to talk to the police. Your choice to remain silent cannot be used against you.
  • You do still have to say something like “I am exercising my right to remain silent” and then stop talking.

You have the right to a lawyer. If you cannot pay for a lawyer, one will be assigned to help you, at no cost to you.

  • Depending on where you are arrested, your right to a lawyer may happen at different times. In some states, a lawyer will come talk to you before you see a judge. And in other states, you will be given a lawyer after your first time in court. If you are not sure, you can always ask to speak to a lawyer.
  • To do that, you have to say something like “I want to talk to a lawyer. I am exercising my right to remain silent.” Then stay silent. Do not talk to the police after asserting your rights.

This is called an interrogation and it can happen anywhere—in the street, at your home, or anywhere in between. You do not have to be taken to the police station. 

The police might, but do not have to, read you Miranda Warnings. The police may ask if you understand the warnings, and then ask you again if you want to speak with them. Remember: even if the police do not say anything about your rights and read you Miranda Warnings, you still have the right to remain silent and to talk to a lawyer. 

Most of the time, police need either a warrant or your permission to search your body or your home. A warrant is a piece of paper signed by a judge that lets the police make certain arrests or do certain searches. Police also need a warrant or your permission to go into your home. 

A search warrant tells the police where they can search and what they can search for. You do not have to let them search anywhere that is not listed on the warrant. You can also refuse a search of your home if the police do not have a warrant that is signed by a judge. 

Sometimes the police are allowed to search you or your home without a warrant. These are called exceptions, and they include:

  • During or right after an arrest, police can search you and the nearby area
  • If police can see evidence of a crime without entering your home
  • If police are in your home, they can search or take evidence that they can see, even if it is not included in the search warrant
  • If police believe someone is in immediate danger or a crime is currently happening
  • If police believe there is evidence of a crime in a car during a traffic stop

If the police have a search warrant, you can ask to see the warrant, ask for a copy of the warrant, and take a photo of the warrant and send it to someone, including your lawyer. 

Yes, you can openly record the police while they are working as long as you are not preventing them from doing their job. Some states make it a crime to secretly record anyone, including the police, without their permission. 

Sometimes police may not know the law, and will tell you to stop recording or they may try to take your device. 

The ACLU’s Mobile Justice App, available in some states, can automatically upload recordings to the ACLU. Learn more here.

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If/When/How provides technical assistance to reproductive health, rights, and justice organizations, abortion funds, health care providers, law students, and lawyers about abortion laws throughout the United States, including up-to-date information about access to clinical care, self-managed abortion, forced parental involvement laws and judicial bypass, birth justice, and mandated reporting requirements for health care providers. The technical assistance we provide includes legal information and trainings.

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