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What are my rights when stopped by a police officer?

The nation was recently gripped by the police shooting death of an unarmed 18-year-old African American man named Michael Brown. Prior to the shooting, the details of the encounter between Brown and the police officer are still in dispute. The police contend Brown assaulted the officer who subsequently shot him. Eye witnesses, however, say Brown was shot multiple times by the officer after turning around with his hands in the air.

Every day throughout North Carolina men, women and teens are approached by police officers and face the possibility of arrest. An individual may be approached or pulled over by a police or law enforcement official for a number of reasons. Whether an individual is driving and pulled over or a teenager, who fits the description of a recent burglary suspect, is stopped and questioned by an officer; it's important that individuals who are facing a possible arrest know their rights. It's also important that individuals do their best to avoid a possible escalation with law enforcement officials.

When stopped or approached by a police officer, it's wise to remain calm and courteous. At this point, an officer will likely begin asking an individual questions. It's important to note, than an individual has the right to remain silent. Police officers are trained in the art of inquiry and may ask an individual leading or misleading questions which could prompt an arrest. To avoid saying anything that could possibly be suspicious or incriminating, individuals are advised to exercise their right to remain silent and inform an officer that they are invoking this right.

In cases where a police officer has no justifiable reason to arrest an individual, he or she has the right to leave the scene and should inform an officer of this intention. In cases where an individual is placed under arrest, again it's important to remain silent and cooperative and to contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible.

Source:, "Know Your Rights: What To Do If You're Stopped By Police, Immigration Agents or the FBI," 2014 USA Today, "Witness says teen friend shot by cop 'like an animal'," Yamiche Alcindor and Doug Stanglin, Aug. 13, 2014

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