When talking to cops in any state, it’s important that you’re able to recognize and avoid the tricks they can use to get you to give them evidence they can use against you. But especially in states like Colorado, whose stop and identify law legally requires you to provide your personal information to the police if you get detained.
Even making one wrong move while talking to with the authorities can land you in a worse situation than you started in—either with a longer stay in county jail, higher amount for bail, and/or more grave consequences than you would’ve gotten to begin with. Cooperating with cops rarely ever works in anyone’s favor, even for those who didn’t even do anything wrong.
Cops might honestly, though wrongly, believe that you are connected to a crime. Which can lead them to approach you on the street and start asking you questions. Anything you tell them can be (and likely will) be used against you. So, in the interest of you surviving a cop stop, we’ve come up with five easy phrases to memorize in the event that you find yourself dealing with the authorities.
“Am I free to go?”
Despite what others may believe, cops can lie to you and will likely try if you are trying to document an arrest or police brutality. In Colorado, you have a right to record no matter what the officers try to say unless you intend by such recording to obstruct, impair, or hinder the cop’s performance of a legitimate governmental function.
If you are approached on the street and the police attempt to talk to you, ask them if you’re free to go and leave the area immediately if they answer yes. In the event they respond with anything other than yes, move on to the next question.
“Am I being detained?”
In Colorado, a cop can stop you if they reasonably suspect you are committing or have committed a crime, and they can require you to give them your name, address, identification if available, and an explanation of your actions. The cop can even pat you down for weapons if they have a reasonable belief that their personal safety requires it. How to stop this? Ask, “Am I being detained?”
If they answer “no,” then you do not have to give them any identifying information and you can simply walk away (do not run).
If they reply with anything other than yes, let them know that you don’t want to talk any further and leave the area immediately. In the event that they do detain you, do not argue with them about whether they are right. Leave it to the courts to sort out later. Then, move on to the next statement.
“I don’t consent to a search.”
Even if you’re certain that they wouldn’t find anything, it really is against your best interests to agree to a search. While the cops are allowed to pat down the outside of your clothes without your permission if they reasonably believe it’s necessary for their personal safety, they need a search warrant to go beyond that, unless you consent to the search, which you should not
Now if they do the search even if you do not consent to it, verbally telling them that you don’t consent can’t be interpreted as permission the same way that silence can.
Keep in mind that being detained is not the same thing as being arrested, so Colorado cops are only allowed to hold you for 48 hours max while they investigate whether or not you’ve done something illegal. While you wait to be charged or let go, officers will do everything they can to get you to talk and establish enough probable cause to actually arrest you. This is where our next statement really comes into play.
“I’m not talking without my lawyer present.”
During the next 48 hours, the authorities will try every technique they know to try and get you to talk—including lying to you. In fact, some of the most common fibs they tell are the same ones that you use on TV:
- claiming they have evidence that doesn’t actually exist,
- offering not to charge you if you give them more information, (they don’t determine your charges)
- exaggerating penalties for crimes,
- claiming you’ll be charged more harshly for obstructing justice, (you can’t be charged with obstruction of justice without an active case)
- saying they can just get a search warrant, (they don’t have enough evidence to get a search warrant)
- suggesting that they’re trying to help you in any way,
- saying that you aren’t under surveillance (while in police custody anything you say to anyone can be used against you)
Nothing good can come from talking to the police without a lawyer present, so it’s in your best interest to take advantage of your right to remain silent.