The Role of the Police

In our society, the police perform two essential functions:  maintain the peace, and investigate possible criminal wrongdoing.  In both roles, the police act not in their capacity as private individuals, but as representatives of the state or local unit of government.  For this reason, the police are entitled to respect from, and the assistance of, the public, but are also subject to constant scrutiny to insure that their actions do not violate individuals’ rights that are guaranteed by law.

 Your Rights When Dealing with the Police

The following serves as a very brief overview of your rights if you are approached by the police:

  1. A police officer may have the right to arrest you even if you are innocent.  Never resist an arrest.  Stay cool, calm, and collected.  Do not become hostile. Remember, an arrest is not a determination of guilt.  Under the law, you are presumed innocent, and this presumption carries with you at every stage of the criminal process until and unless you plead guilty or are found guilty after a trial.
  2. You do not have to consent to the police entering your dwelling.  This applies to rooms in the residence halls as well as to apartments and houses. While your silence cannot be taken as consent, it is better to verbalize your refusal if you do not want the police to come inside. Never physically resist entry.  The issue of whether the police made a lawful entry will be determined later in court.
  3. If you consent to a search of your person, abode, or automobile, any evidence so obtained may be used against you.  You need not consent to such searches, but never physically resist a search.
  4. You have the right not to incriminate yourself.  This right extends to all encounters with the police, before or after an arrest. If you choose to talk to the police, anything you say may be used against you in court. You can be prosecuted for giving the police false information.  You do have a duty to identify yourself, and where you live.  
  5. If you are in the custody of the police, you have the right to remain silent and the right to consult an attorney.  If you cannot afford an attorney, request the court appoint one for you. You may invoke your right to remain silent at any time or have an attorney present at the interrogation.  You cannot be compelled to take a polygraph or lie detector test.  You can be compelled to submit to various tests, including a blood test, DNA test, line-up, writing exemplar, etc.

Police Investigations

As stated, it is the job of the police to investigate possible criminal wrongdoing.

If you believe you are the victim of a crime, you have the right to contact the police and report this fact to the police.  Whether the police press charges against the person(s) you believe committed the criminal act should be based on a determination by the police whether a crime took place and whether there is sufficient evidence to charge the person(s) with the crime.  Mere suspicion is not sufficient grounds for the police to arrest someone.  You have a right to submit a written statement concerning the alleged offense, even if the police do not believe there is a basis to arrest anyone.

If the police tell you that you cannot make a written statement, you should contact the Chief of Police of the Police Department in question, or consult an attorney.

Police Reports 

A Police Report is a written report prepared by the police officer(s) investigating a crime which is provided to the lawyer prosecuting the case, typically the States Attorney or City Attorney where the incident took place.   The Police Report is different than the paperwork given to a defendant when he or she is arrested, which usually includes the Complaint and a Bail Bond form, which informs the defendant when he or she must appear in court for the first time.

The Police Report is an important document because it indicates why the police arrested the defendant, including, at least in a summary fashion, what witnesses told the police, what physical evidence the police collected, what the defendant said, if anything, and so on. The Report can be used in cross-examination of the police officer at trial.

As a defendant, you have the right to a copy of the Police Report.  If you have an attorney, the attorney will obtain the Police Report.  If you are representing yourself, you can ask for a copy of the Report, and if the police will not give you a copy, you can ask the judge to order the state to give one to you.

Separate Police Reports are usually not prepared in conjunction with the issuance of ordinary traffic citations.  If the traffic violation was criminal in nature, such as Driving Under the Influence of Alcohol or Reckless Driving, it is likely a Police Report was completed by the police. 

Police as Witnesses 

Once they have completed their investigation of a criminal matter and arrested the individual(s) they believe committed the crime, the police are ordinarily no longer involved in the case, except as witnesses at trial.  Prosecution of the case is the responsibility of the Prosecutor, usually the States Attorney of the county in which the case was filed, or a City Attorney, if the case was charged under a local ordinance.  If you believe you have been falsely accused of a crime and have witnesses or other evidence you think would prove your innocence, you should contact an attorney to assist you.