How to Handle Police when stopped

I went to an interesting session tonight on “how to survive police encounters” with content provided by the ACLU. Here’s a few of the interesting ideas and things I learned:

  • Never lie to the police.
  • Play the question game. Answer their questions with questions. For example: “Q: how much pot have you smoked tonight?” “A: Am I being detained, officer, or am I free to go?”

    When you’re stopped in your car:
    1. Only open your window as much as you need to speak with the officer. Two to three inches is all you really need. This stops the officer from sticking his head in your car and seeing anything you don’t want him to.
    2. If you’re asked to step outside your car, close and lock it behind you. Leaving the door open is an invitation for the officer to search your car. Unless there’s something in plain view that gives him reason to search your car (and in Montana, even if there is), he can not search your car without a warrant. Smell is not enough. Often times an officer will bluff that he smells something, even though that’s not the case, just to freak people out. Don’t fall for it. Smell alone, according to a 1978 supreme court ruling, is NOT sufficient cause to search a car.

    In your house:
    An officer can NOT enter your home without either 1) your consent or 2) a warrant. If an officer shows up on your doorstep, step outside and close the door behind you to talk to him. If he does come inside, he can pick up anything that is in plain sight.

    Never admit to anything. Don’t admit to owning anything, or doing anything. If you’re asked directly, either avoid the question or refuse to answer.

    In Montana, you can have an open container so long as you’re not within city limits. You can be drinking, so long as you’re within legal limits. Additionally, in Montana, an officer cannot sieze articles in your vehichle without a warrent, regardless of the “plain view” exception. Even if an officer sees a bond on your dashboard, he can’t sieze it without a warrent.

    There’s more information at

  • About Mark Egge

    Two truths and a lie: Mark Egge is an outdoor enthusiast, opera singer, and a transportation data scientist. He lives in Bozeman, Montana.
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