How cooperative must I be with the police?

In an encounter with a police officer, bear in mind that ordinarily the officer will not know you. The officer’s observations of your demeanor and conduct affect his or her assessment of your credibility – an important factor in deciding whether or not to arrest you. The quickest way to assure your arrest is to act in a belligerent or hostile manner toward the police officer. Even though the police are trained to deal with difficult situations, they are also human and by negative interaction, you can tip the scales against you.

Furthermore, in any interaction with police, remember it is always in your best interest to remain calm, civil, and courteous and to avoid the escalation of hostilities.

The police have a very difficult task in enforcing the laws, and their status as police officers gives them the right to stop and detain you if they believe a crime is about to occur or has occurred. Anytime a police officer attempts to stop you, you should be cooperative. However, you are not required to answer police questions if you are suspected of a crime. By resisting or fleeing a police officer, you are committing additional crimes, which may lead to a forceful apprehension or even the use of deadly force against you. If you are polite and well mannered, you are less likely to be injured, restrained further, or have additional criminal charges filed against you. You should always be quiet and avoid talking to anyone other than your attorney. Small talk with other people in the jail may come back to haunt you later.

When can the police search my car, my house, or me? Must they have a search warrant?

Usually the police need a warrant to search either you or things you own, such as your car and house. If you are ever handed a search warrant, you should read it carefully to make sure the police have the right person and correct address, and that the judge’s name and signature are included. The warrant should also tell you what the police are looking for and what they have a right to search. However, sometimes a warrant is not needed. Here are a few examples of when a warrant is not needed by a police office:

  • If you are lawfully arrested, the police may search you and the area within your immediate reach and control.
  • If the police reasonably believe that you are armed and dangerous, they may frisk you.
  • If the police are in hot pursuit, they may pursue you without a warrant.
  • If the police have a reasonable belief that you have contraband in your car or have evidence of a crime in the vehicle, they may search your car without a warrant. Further, if you are arrested, the police may do an inventory search to identify all articles in your car.
  • In emergency situations that could involve the loss of life or serious injuries, the police may conduct a search.

Remember, a minor child living with parents is under their supervision and care, so parents can consent to a search of the child’s room even though the child has not consented to such a search.

Can a police officer of the opposite sex search me?

If you are stopped, an officer of any gender may conduct a “frisk,” or pat-down search. In contrast, a full-body search should be conducted by someone of the same gender as the suspect. The procedure may be regulated by state law or by a local police department’s regulation. The policy in most South Dakota Law Enforcement Departments is that a full-body search should be conducted by someone of the same gender.