O'Neil Law

Dealing with Police

Dealing with police can be a touchy situation, no matter who you are, where you’re going, or what you’re up to. What can people can do to prevent police encounters from becoming seriously detrimental to one’s life.

1. Never consent to searches

Thanks to the nation’s drug policies, invasive searches for contraband substances or firearms are not unusual – but this is also where most people get tripped up. While you cannot tell an officer that you won’t let them search your vehicle or your person, you can say you do not consent, which triggers important constitutional protections under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  They may still execute the search, but even if they find contraband or weapons, a lawyer has a better chance at getting the case dropped if you did not give permission.

The only way to come out ahead is to say, ‘I don’t consent to a search. You have to say that. If you don’t, you’re not protected. If you don’t say that, your lawyer can’t represent you. The minute you say that, you’ve set the stage for the legal battle in court. You can’t argue with them on the street. They can be wrong and you can be right, but you can still get hurt.

If an officer asks you to empty your pockets, respectfully decline and reiterate that you do not consent to any search. Emptying your pockets is the same as saying you consent. The officer may still reach into your pockets if they claim to have felt something that may be a weapon, but by refusing you retain constitutional protections later on. 

2. Keep quiet and assert your rights

Whether you’re under arrest or not, you do not have to answer police questions, and you are always entitled to a lawyer. An exception to this is that the Traffic Safety Act requires you to provide your name and address if you are driving a car or are a passenger in a car, or a pedestrian on a “highway”. If you are driving, you must also give the officer your licence, registration, and insurance. Simply give the officer the information he is entitled to, and inform him in a respectful manner that you do not wish to answer any other questions and would like to speak with an attorney. You should also politely ask if the officer is detaining you or if you are free to leave.

You have to own these things. You can’t just be meek about it. Police do know when you start asserting your rights. What you want to say is, ‘Am I being detained, or am I free to go?’ Once they say you’re being detained, which means you’re not free to go, then they must have reasonable suspicion to detain you. At that point you can say, ‘What is the reasonable suspicion that you have to detain me?’ Then they will have to articulate it.”

Always be aware of your surroundings during a police stop. If there are any witnesses to the encounter and you do not get arrested, try to reach out to them to discuss the incident immediately after it is over. This is especially important if you plan on filing a formal complaint, as witness corroboration can substantially strengthen your claim.  

3. Be cool and be aware

When confronting an officer during a traffic stop, exhibiting anger or frustration at the onset of the encounter can change the outcome dramatically. Remain calm, keep your hands on the wheel and do not reach for your license or insurance papers until directed to. Most importantly, be respectful and do not challenge the officer’s authority directly – that’s what the courtroom is for.

Make mental notes of the officer’s words, and getting their name if possible. This information will be invaluable to your defense should you end up under arrest. Follow up if you feel your rights have been trampled upon. If an officer has enough complaints registered against him or her, it creates a public record of bad behavior that can be used by lawyers to trigger settlements or pressure management to fire an officer, if necessary.

If it’s night, turn on your vehicle’s interior light to provide the officer with an additional sense of security, and make no movements without first telling the officer what you are reaching for and where it is.