Understanding What Police Can and Cannot Do

Attorneys have a responsibility to understand and communicate with their clients to build the best possible case. Frequently, the outcome of a case hinges on the arrest process and what protocols were or were not followed.

Understanding what the police are and are not allowed to do plays a crucial factor in building a case. It’s important to note that while they aren’t allowed to do some things, they might slip up; this is an opportunity for attorneys and defendants.


Here’s an outline of what police can and cannot do during an arrest.

Police Must Have Probable Cause

Police must have probable cause to pull you over, search you or detain you. A prime example is during a late-night stop when the driver is suspected of driving under the influence. Driving erratically, for example, is probable cause. Additionally, walking up to the window and smelling or seeing alcohol or drugs could be probable cause.

Unfortunately, probable cause often falls into a subjective gray area. Police can say that you looked suspicious or out of place. This reasoning often stems from underlying and subconscious biases. 

As such, probable cause can snowball into the violation of your fourth amendment rights — which is the right to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. While a police officer must have consent or a warrant to conduct a property search, whether it is your car or household, they can claim probable cause and proceed.

However, pushing the envelope on the fourth amendment also opens their case to attack. A skilled attorney can push back and say that evidence was collected questionably and use the exclusionary rule to have it deemed inadmissible. 

Police Officers Can Lie

There’s a common misconception that police officers are not allowed to lie to you. While you are not allowed to lie to the police, they can (and do) lie in order to solve a case. If you’ve ever watched a true-crime documentary, you’ve likely seen it in action as the detective sympathizes with a killer to get a confession.

That being said, police officers are supposed to be honest about if they’re arresting you and why. According to Edgett Law Firm, “even though the police may not answer all your questions, it is wise to ask specific questions.” You should always ask if you’re being detained, the reasoning behind, if there is a warrant, and if you are free to go. You should also ask for an attorney as soon as possible if you’re being detained.

Police Must Allow Private Attorney Conversations

You have a right to have private conversations with your attorney. Skilled attorneys know this, but you should also be aware of this right if you’re talking on the phone with them before they arrive. The police are not allowed to listen in on your confidential conversations, either directly or indirectly.

If you’re having a conversation with your attorney and suspect an officer is listening, let your attorney know so they can handle the situation.

Police Must Read You Your Rights

While the police can be evasive with some questions and craft a narrative to urge you to confess, they can’t skip over reading your rights. Even though you likely know the Miranda rights from television, they still have to say everything to you.

Keep in mind that the right to remain silent is just that. While you shouldn’t lie, as it will inevitably come back to haunt you, you can refuse to say anything at all.

Police Can’t Use Excessive Force

Police are not allowed to use excessive force. However, this is also a gray area that can be subject to interpretation. Legally speaking, a police officer is not supposed to draw their weapon unless another weapon is present. However, as we know, it doesn’t always work that way.

Staying calm and cooperative during a police interaction is a must. It’s better to survive and go back to press charges, than it is to resist. A skilled attorney can help seek justice after the fact.

Remembering this information can help you protect your rights during an interaction with the police.

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