Proper Cop Etiquette
There is no such thing as a casual encounter with a police officer. Every single unsupervised interaction you have with the police presents a serious and significant threat to your liberty. Always be wary. Always protect yourself and your interests before anything else. Start by reading this.
COMMON POLICE MYTHS
It’s always better to cooperate with the police; they’ll go easier on you later if you do.
[Insert loud buzzer sound here.] WRONG. Cooperating with the police earns you nothing.
If the police officer thought you deserved some credit for being “a nice guy,” he wouldn’t be bothering to try and persuade you of the “benefits” of cooperating in the first place. Cops care about two things only: (1) making stops; and (2) not concluding the stop until someone is arrested for something. If a police officer tells you to cooperate and answer questions or provide consent and tries to convince you to do so by citing the “help” it will provide for you “later,” the only thing that means is that he needs more evidence. It means that he needs you to give him that evidence in the form of statements or body language or consent or any other indication you make in the act of cooperating.
Of course this certainly does not mean you should be UNcooperative with police (unlike the lies about the link between cooperation leading to better treatment, being uncooperative with the police actually WILL make a difference, in that it will make things more difficult for you later), rather, it means that you should never do anything to make yourself more vulnerable, no matter what the officer may say. The police officer knows NOTHING about the potential outcomes in your case because it’s the district attorney who will be prosecuting you, not the cop. He just hands the evidence he collected over to the D.A.’s office and then they file charges. There is no box the officer can check before handing you over to the D.A. which states “Defendant cooperated.” That’s because no one cares.
If the police officer asks to search you or your vehicle, you should consent. You don’t want to look like you have anything to hide, and if you say no, you’ll look guilty.
You know what else makes you look guilty? Being behind bars after you consented to a search of your car thinking you had “nothing to hide” and the officer found a marijuana roach a friend left on the floor of your car three years ago. I’ve said it a million times and I’ll say it a million times more: CONSENT TO NOTHING! It is usually safe to presume that if the police officer is asking for your consent, he is trying to arrest you for (a) any crime, and he doesn’t have quite enough evidence to do that quite yet; or (b) another crime on top of what you’ve already been stopped for. Neither one of those alternatives is in your interests. Consent, therefore, is never in your best interests.
Cops love tricking you into giving consent as well. You need to be alert to this and avoid feeling “trapped” into consenting to a search. For example, one common technique police officers use to obtain consent is to question you as follows:
COP: “Ok, well, just about done here, so let me go get this speeding ticket printed out. But hey – before I go – I just gotta ask. You don’t have any weapons or firearms in the vehicle, do you?”
YOU: “No, sir.”
COP: “Ok. And you don’t have any illegal drugs or controlled substances in there either, right?”
YOU: “No, sir! Absolutely not!”
COP: “Great. You wouldn’t mind if I just did a quick look around then, right?”
COP: “What’s the problem? I’ll be quick. Plus, you have nothing to hide.”
YOU: “Right. Sure, okay. Just make it quick.”
Five minutes later you’re in the back of the squad car because your “friend,” the police officer, used your consent to search your glove box, your trunk, and even the bags and boxes closed or zipped shut in your trunk. How’s that for “making it quick”? If the police officer attempts to trick you into consenting to a search like demonstrated above, don’t just say “ok” because you can’t think of anything else. If you don’t know on the spot how to answer to whether “you have anything to hide,” just remember this, memorize it, and say it as many times as you need:
NEW AND IMPROVED YOU: “You are correct. I have nothing to hide. But I do value my time, and above all, I value my privacy. And so does the Constitution. I therefore do not consent to any search of my person or my vehicle.”
If the cop doesn’t read you your Miranda rights before asking you questions, you can answer because nothing you say can be used against you in court.
The average citizen doesn’t know it yet, but you can bet that every police officer in the country does: The dictates of Miranda are slowly turning into tales of legend and lore and its protections are fading into myth. Yes, originally, Miranda did mean the following: If you were not advised of your rights before being (a) placed in custody, and then (b) interrogated, any statements you made could not be used in court and would be suppressed, and any evidence collected based on the statements you made would be suppressed as well.
Unfortunately, however, the US Supreme Court has hacked away at Miranda over the past twenty years and the result we have today is a rather ineffectual case creating a mostly ineffectual right, that, if violated, isn’t that effective at suppressing the wrongfully obtained evidence later in court. What does this mean for you? It means this: Do not ever rely on the protection of Miranda. Keep in mind – the Miranda case is the garbage it is today because of the problems it caused for the prosecution in handling cases that had been investigated by incompetent cops. Too often, they just kept messing up their obligations under Miranda, by not getting an effective or valid waiver, by saying it wrong, by saying it at the wrong time, or just by being obnoxious about it altogether (I once had a case where my client was taken into a squad car with an interrogating police officer who put her in back, got in the front of the car, turned around and said “You have the right to remain silent, and blah blah blah.” …I’m serious.). As a result, lawmakers and courts have had to “fix” Miranda so that prosecutors wouldn’t have case after case thrown out for police officers’ Miranda violations that would have suppressed their cases’ most important evidence. Today, it’s essentially meaningless. Yes, a good defense attorney can get it to suppress some evidence from time to time, but not on any sort of scale that would mean you should rely on it. The best approach is always: When in doubt, say nothing. And when not in doubt, say nothing!
Cops can’t lie to you. If they’re undercover, you can ask them if they are a cop and they have to answer yes. And if they tell you that they’ve found evidence against you or that someone has turned you in, you might as well confess.
So, so wrong. I swear that the “cops have to tell you if they’re cops” rumor was started by police officers themselves to give people this false sense of security in our system of police’s commitment to the truth. There is NO such thing. Cops can lie all day, and they do. If they are working undercover, they don’t have to tell you no matter WHAT questions you ask. Ever wonder where “false confessions” come from? Most people can’t believe that anyone on earth would confess to something they didn’t do. That’s why any confessions or admissions of guilt the police can elicit from you are so valuable in court. No one wants to believe that it is somehow possible to “trick” someone into admitting something they didn’t do. It is.