One of the most common questions clients ask a Seattle criminal defense attorney is regarding their rights, especially when they have been stopped by the police. While law enforcement agents can pride themselves on the use of power, either as a tool of oppression or subjugation, there is a need to understand your power as a citizen and the laws that protect your rights.

One of the most common mistakes most people make, especially when relating to law enforcement officers, is that they relinquish their rights to these agents, putting themselves at risk of being exploited.

Policemen are trained to exercise their authority and use it during interactions with civilians or private citizens. While you may feel grossly uncomfortable relating to a policeman, you should also know that you have some rights by which the law protects you from being mistreated.

When relating to policemen, there is a need to understand that you can stand by your rights while still being respectful. There are certain cases where you can respectfully decline advances or requests from a law enforcement officer while also protecting your rights.

If you have been pulled over, for example, during a routine traffic stop, either for a perceived violation or a random check, the police officer is by law required to demand a means of identification. This can be done by checking your driver’s license and registration. However, in other cases, the officer may proceed to ask you some questions such as whether or not you have illegal or contraband substances, for example, whether you possess drugs, guns, or other items on your person.

In cases such as this, when you say “no,” the officer may proceed to demand to look in your vehicle for confirmation.

Due to years of training, the police officer may direct seemingly harmless questions like “You don’t mind me looking into your car trunk?” or “Would you please step out of your car?”. While these are requests, most untrained minds oblige the requests and further put themselves at the mercy of the law.

If you are faced with a situation such as this, below are some of the things you need to know:

You have the right to decline such requests

As a citizen, there are certain laws which protect you. The Federal Supreme Court has ruled that as long as the police have not forced an individual to do something, he or she will be assumed to have acted voluntarily. The rule was delivered in a case between Florida vs. Bostick. In line with the judgment, it is clear that even in cases when you feel intimidated by the requests made by the police officer, you retain the right to decline such request otherwise whatever actions taken will be regarded as voluntary and in compliance with the request made by the officer.

You have the right to decline a warrantless search

When you have been approached by an officer of the law requesting that you allow access to your property either for a search or a look around, especially without a duly signed warrant, you have the right to decline such a request.

When faced with such situations as this, a lawyer may recommend that you answer yes or no to the question. This advice is valid because there are certain cases where the victim may have expressed their message in other terms which can be misconstrued by the police officer as a “yes”.

To get yourself out of such a condition, it is recommended that you categorically and unequivocally state; “No, I am not going to allow you to do that.” Saying this does not mean you are going against the law, however, it means that you are protecting yourself according to the laws protecting your rights as a private citizen.

Usually, a police officer is bound by law to respect your wishes under the law, however, in other cases, they may push to gain access into your property and this may be a legal ground to file against the police force.

What can I be made to do by the police?

The answer to this question depends on several factors, including the context of the interaction. Generally, the court allows police officers to act as any private citizen would and this means they can ask questions, look through home or business windows when they suspect strange activities or carry out other similar activities. However, policemen begin to step out of line when they demand full compliance of a private citizen with no questions asked, demand to search a property without appropriate warrants, or detain people or property unjustly.


It is, however, important to note that in highly volatile situations, the police officer may assume a greater authority. The supreme court has further ruled that the police can protect themselves from threatening and volatile situations thus giving them the liberty to act in extreme ways in cases where they feel their safety is in question.

The authority, however, can be abused by some police officers who use weapons as part of their tools to intimidate private citizens, forcing them into compliance.

When interacting with the police, most states require that you give your name and your ID, however, presenting a false name is regarded as a crime under law, and this may even further complicate your case, especially if you have an outstanding warrant or other offenses in your name.

The Supreme court, in a case of Adams vs. Williams, 407 U.S. 143, 146 (1972) delivered a judgement saying: “A brief stop of a suspicious individual, in order to determine his identity or to maintain the status quo momentarily while obtaining more information, may be most reasonable in light of the facts known to the officer at the time.” To this extent, you should avoid prolonging your interaction with the police by presenting truthful information at all times.

What the police cannot do

When interacting with the police, you should know some things that you cannot be made to do.

I. The police are not allowed to frisk you in search of anything except weapons. If the officer discovers any other thing on your person during a weapons pat, you are not allowed to present it to them.

II. The police, even with a warrant, are not allowed to search anyone except for the person for whom the warrant has been issued.

III. Publicly obscure areas like vehicle trunks, glove compartment, pockets, and others are out of bounds to police officers.

IV. You cannot be arrested for exercising your constitutional rights as a private citizen, even after you have declined a police officer’s request to search you or your property without a warrant.

 For other questions regarding your rights, visit a Seattle criminal attorney at the Law Offices of Kevin Trombold, PLLC, or visit our website