Children are taught from the earliest levels of public school education to respect those in positions of authority, like police officers. The mainstream media and even entertainment help reinforce the idea that citizens must always comply with the instructions or requests of law enforcement officers.
Police procedural shows, for example, might make non-compliance seem either impossible or like an invitation for officers to bend the rules. It’s important to remember that much of what you know about criminal justice likely comes from entertainment and is based more on what will seem dramatic rather than what is the most realistic.
Police officers can’t fabricate probable cause or force their way into your house just because you don’t let them inside, and they can’t arrest you just because you don’t do what they ask. Still, officers can and likely will pressure people to do or say certain things. Do you have to comply with any requests made you by a police officer?
The situation determines how compliant you must be
The reason for your encounter with police officers in the situation at the time of your encounter will influence your rights and their behavior.
If officers suspect you of a violent offense or have reason to think you are in possession of weapons, you may have to comply with their instructions to submit to a pat-down. In circumstances where they don’t have probable cause to suspect a weapon, you don’t necessarily have to let them talk to you or go through your pockets unless they place you under arrest.
Do you have to let the police into your home?
When the police show up at your front door, they will probably try to get you to invite them inside. Your sense of politeness and your social training to comply with the police might lead you to open your front door.
However, you are under no obligation to let them into your house unless they have a warrant. You also don’t have to answer their questions. You can offer to speak with them later with an attorney present but not at an unscheduled time in front of your house without representation.
In some situations, you don’t have to interact with officers at all
Police officers will do whatever they see as necessary to build a case and continue an investigation. When officers try to speak with you or ask you questions, you don’t necessarily have to stay there and continue the conversation.
You have the right to ask if they plan to detain you or arrest you. If they don’t, then you can ask if you are free to leave. Unless the officer has grounds to keep questioning you or to detain or arrest you, they will generally have to agree to let you go.
Knowing your rights ahead of time will make it easier for you to stand up for them in a moment when you have an unexpected interaction with law enforcement. Asserting your rights can make it easier for you to avoid criminal charges or to build a defense if you do wind up charged with a crime.