This document was adapted from a guide developed by the Sex Worker Project – New York City
Know Your Rights
No matter your age, gender, immigration status, or whether you are committing a crime, US law says you certain rights that can’t be violated.
- You have the right to be free of illegal searches and arrests.
- You have the right to remain silent and not answer questions from the police.
- You have the right to have a lawyer.
There are ways to stand up for those rights! Sadly, police may not always respect your rights. Always do what feels safest if you are afraid of violence by police.
Probable Suspicion vs. Probable Cause
Probable Suspicion means that circumstances or behavior deviating from ‘normal’ behavior give law enforcement reasonable suspicion that you are committing a crime or intend to commit a crime. This might include:
- reports of a high volume of visitors entering and exiting your hotel room
- placement of a suggestive advertisement
- walking in certain neighborhoods wearing a certain type of clothing at night.
- Repeatedly stopping and talking to cars that pass you.
Probable suspicion gives an officer warrant to detain you for a period of time and ask you questions. If the law enforcement officer has probable suspicion that you have a weapon, this also gives the officer the right to stop and search you.
Probable Cause means that the known facts and circumstances are sufficient to warrant a man of reasonable prudence in the belief that contraband or evidence
of a crime will be found.
Probable suspicion does not give an officer the right to arrest you.Typically, if an officer stops or detains you and asks questions, he is trying to gather enough information for “probable cause” of a crime being committed and thus, for arrest.You should try to stay calm, remain silent & invoke your fifth amendment rights if you are stopped, pulled over, or detained without being arrested. Do not try to explain your behavior, conceal already visible evidence from, or run away from law enforcement as this can be used to create a probable cause of criminal activity and grounds for arrest.
What to do if you are Stopped by the Police
If a cop approaches you on the street (or while entering or exiting a hotel room or lobby) you don’t have to answer questions. Say:
Am I free to go?
If they say yes, then go! If they say no, then ask:
Am I being detained?
If they say no, then leave!
If they say yes, you can ask why. Don’t argue, but try to remember their badge number, what they look like, and anything they say and do.
If you are detained, an officer can question you, ask for ID, or pat you down outside of your clothes to check for weapons. They can’t go into your pockets or bags without asking permission, or search you to try to identify your sex.
You have a right to be free from unreasonable searches! If a cop tries to search you, say out loud:
I do not consent to this search.
This does not give them an excuse to arrest you. They might arrest you anyway. If they do arrest you, they can search you without asking permission.
Never resist or fight back if you are being arrested, say:
I am not resisting, officer.
You can also be arrested by an undercover cop. It is hard to tell when someone is an undercover cop, because they are not in uniform, and they can drink, do drugs, touch, be touched, lie, and pretend not to be a police officer. If an undercover cop does something you think might be against their rules, remember and tell your lawyer.
If you are arrested, they may not say “You are under arrest,” or read you your rights. Say:
I am going to remain silent, and I want to speak to a lawyer.
Do not say or sign anything without your lawyer there! Police are trained to lie in order to get info, and they can put snitches in the cell with you. Anything you say to anyone except your lawyer, doctor or therapist can be used against you, even if you are innocent.
If you need medical help ASK FOR IT, even if they say it will take longer to get out.
Police sometimes take condoms away from sex workers. Police are not allowed to arrest you only because you have condoms. It is not a crime to carry condoms!
Don’t let the police scare you – carry condoms if you need them to stay safe!
If you’re a non-citizen, you need to follow some extra advice to protect yourself and stay in the U.S.
If you get arrested for any reason, the police may send your fingerprints to Immigration. If Immigration thinks you are deportable, it may ask the jail to issue a “detainer” on you, to send you to Immigration after your case is over.
If you are asked about your status by police or anyone in the jail, say “I would like to remain silent.” Don’t give false documents or claim you are a citizen.
Do tell your lawyer about your status, but no one else. Do not sign anything without your lawyer there!
If bail is set on your case in court, ask your attorney if an immigration detainer has been issued already, if there is no detainer, try to have someone there to pay right away before you are sent to Jail, so that Immigration does not have a chance to put a detainer on you.
If you can’t pay bail right away, call an attorney. It may not be safe to pay bail later.
What happens after arrest?
If you are arrested, you will be brought to a police station, fingerprinted, and maybe held overnight. Then you will be brought to the court holding cell, where you will wait for your turn before the judge. This is called an “arraignment.” The judge should ask you if you need a translator.