PLEASE NOTE: The information on this page is for educational purposes. It is not intended to as legal advice for any case. If you have additional questions, it is recommended to contact the Legal Resource Center or your attorney.
Want more detailed info? Check out the resources available from the ACLU here.
Can the police question people who are not under arrest?
Yes, the police can stop anyone and ask questions without arresting the person. This can happen when police see suspicious activity.
Your Rights and Responsibilities when Interacting with Police
- You have the right to remain silent. If you wish to exercise that right, say so out loud.
- Be careful with what you say to the officer because anything you say can be used against you in the court of law.
- You have the right to an attorney if you are arrested. Ask for one immediately.
- If you are not under arrest or being detained, you have the right to calmly leave.
- You have the right to refuse to consent to a search of yourself, your car, or your home.
- You have the right to file a written complaint with the police department or contact an attorney if you feel your rights have been violated.
- Be sure to note the badge number and name of the police officers.
- Write the incident down and compile a witness list while the event is still fresh in your mind.
- Do stay calm and polite.
- Do not interfere with or obstruct the police.
- Do not lie or give false documents.
- Do not argue, run away from or touch any of the police officers.
- Do not say anything without an attorney, but you must tell an officer your correct name an address.
What Happens If the Police Stop Me for Questioning?
- Stay calm. Don’t run, don’t argue, resist, or touch the police, even if you are innocent or police are violating your rights. You can fight that in court, but trying to fight it in the moment will only result in more serious charges for you.
- Ask if you are free to leave. If the officer says yes, calmly and silently walk away. If you are under arrest, you have the right to know why.
- Don’t volunteer information. You have the right to remain silent and cannot be punished for asserting that right. But remember, in California, you must give your name and address if asked to identify yourself.
- You do not have to consent to a search of yourself or your belongings, but police may “pat down” your outer clothing if they suspect you have a weapon. You should not physically resist, but you have the right to say that you do not consent to any further search.