by Open source
Published: 2021-06-07 (last update: 2024-01-09)
This guide will first give some general pointers to handle police no matter where you live and then delve into the laws of, hopefully, each country in the world.
All communists should know how to handle police when they come knocking. Not only do we understand the reasons to be wary of the police (systemic racism, their role as an enforcer of bourgeois rules...), we must be doubly cautious because our activism and ideological leanings put us at risk.
This guide will first give some general pointers to handle police no matter where you live and then delve into the laws of, hopefully, each country in the world.
This guide is also collaborative, please feel free to add something if it's missing. However, please do back up your claims! We must not give out wrong or outdated information that could get comrades in trouble. Please add the countries in the appropriate subcontinent category and in alphabetical order from A-Z.
And of course it is necessary to point out that this guide does not constitute any form of legal advice. Unfortunately bourgeois law is complicated and as such it could put you in terrible circumstances if you were to blindly follow what is written there. We do not wish harm to come to our comrades, and as such please consult with a lawyer when your liberty is at risk -- in liberal democracies, this is almost always a guaranteed right when you are arrested by the police.
How to handle the police
Understanding the police
By the time the police talks to you or even looks at you, they are sizing you up for illegal activity. Remember that their job is to arrest people and interrogate them to get a confession -- it's what they do for 8 or more hours every day. They are generally trained to see everything as a potential threat and are so alienated from their community that they do not see themselves as part of it, but rather as some external wall preventing the total collapse of society.
Therefore, as soon as the police says one word to you, they are out to get you. No matter what they say -- remember the police is allowed to lie to you or say half-truths. It's possible that they are only asking you questions as a witness, yet what you say can be used to implicate you in a crime. Let's see a possible situation about a fight that broke out at a bar and, unknown to the witness, one of the victims was hit in the head by a bottle:
Police: Hi, we're investigating the fight that broke out in front of the bar and some people identified you as a witness. Can you tell us what happened?
Witness: Yeah, couple people were drinking at the bar and then one of them started hitting some other guy in the head and yelling.
Police: What did you do then?
Witness: I backed off, I didn't want to get hit. I still had my beer bottle in my hand, but I dropped it sometime during the fight in the commotion. People around me were cheering them on.
Police: Where would you say your beer bottle ended up going?
Witness: I mean, I don't know where it went. I don't remember throwing it, and I couldn't find it, so probably it went in the direction of the people fighting.
Just like that the witness has admitted to: being present at the fight, carrying a beer bottle, and losing it in the crowd. At trial this could be enough for the prosecution to convict the witness.
Some people -- and the police exploits that -- think that by being uncooperative, they will make themselves look suspicious. That is thankfully not true. First because you cannot be suspicious if you do not say anything, you have not given the police anything to go on. Second because anything that must be said to exonerate yourself will be said in court if it comes to that. The police is generally only allowed to detain you if they have charges or strong suspicions against you (more on that in the country sections). If you do not say anything that could incriminate you, you will not give them reason to detain you. It should come as no surprise that many cases do not go to court (or at least don't end up with you in court) because the main suspect simply did not talk. There was simply no evidence to make a case.
When questioned by police in the streets, only give them whichever information you are legally bound to give, and nothing else. You can say "I have nothing to say". Even if they ask how you are today, say "I have nothing to say officer" and leave.
If you are arrested and interrogated at the station, the same rules apply but you must also ask for a lawyer. "I have nothing to say and want to speak to my lawyer". You have to be clear with your language. If they ask any question after that, no matter how trivial, don't give in to them. Repeat you want to speak to your lawyer right now.
As for body language, try to stay calm and collected. This reduces any ammunition you give the police. If you suddenly interject "No!", that will get caught on camera and be used in court. Interrogations also drag on, and you are deprived of entertainment and confined to a small room for hours on end. This is of course the purpose of these interrogations, to wear you down so that you confess to just about anything to get out of it. For this reason it is worthwhile to learn techniques to disassociate from time, which will be your second biggest enemy after the police.
Police are no strangers to interrogations, even if they're performed in the streets on the down-low (i.e. you are not being detained). But their weakness lies in the fact they think this makes them good at it. They will use threats, they will call out your statements, they will try to get consent for searches. Do not say "yes" or "no", do say "I have nothing to state" or "I have nothing to say". If you are unclear in your language, they will press you on it and you want to avoid that.
It is important to learn their tactics and practice repeating "I do not have anything to say, officer". Preparation is half the battle. We recommend this Youtube channel which is based in the USA but examines police interrogations and their tactics.
Dealing with the police at your home or in your car
Do not let them search any of your property. Do not let the police in your home -- meet them outside your door and close it fully behind you (in some places they can investigate if they think they saw something incriminating in your house). If they want to investigate, they will have to get a warrant (they will bother you with this, saying that if they need a warrant they can get it anytime it's just easier and less suspicious if you agree -- that is not your problem, let them get the warrant, chances are they won't be able to). Clearly say "I do not consent to a search of my property". Again, if you say a simple yes or no, they can sometimes legally misconstrue that as consent depending how they asked the question.
Can anything be gained by talking to police?
No. The only exception is if you are a witness in some cases, because some petty cases do not go to court. But even then, even if you are in good faith and want to cooperate, they may pin something on you. You do not know all laws. You can slip up and incriminate yourself during your witness statement, as we've seen.
If you want to make a statement because your friend was in an incident and you want to help protect them as they are the victim, please remember that the police is not either of your friends. As far as they know two random people started fighting each other. By making a witness statement to the police (not in court!), you can mistakenly incriminate your friend. There aren't really guidelines for such a case, you will have to weigh the situation yourself and if it is worth testifying to the police. You generally don't have anything to lose by testifying in court, as the lawyer on your side (might be prosecution or might be defence) will prepare you for your statement so that you don't say anything you shouldn't.
If you wish to talk to the police as witness however, you should ask for immunity. This means anything you tell them (regarding the case) cannot be used against you. It could be used against someone else however, so beware the language when you sign the immunity agreement (if they even offer it; it is likely that if you ask for immunity, the police will just drop you as a witness). Such immunity could also be granted in a very reduced manner, for example only including what directly pertains to your alibi. If, during your witness statement, you tell the officers "I had a knife in my hand at the time" (even if it was for cooking), this may not be protected under your immunity agreement.
Everything that has to be said can be said in court. If you are the one in trouble, any ammo you give during your interrogation will be used in court to build a case. Even if you start by cooperating and making a statement, and then suddenly stop, it could be used in court. The police can say "well when we started asking about their relationship with the victim they said they didn't want to answer any more questions". The prosecution can use that against you. Yet if you have not said anything from the get-go by clearly stating you would not speak, nothing can be pinned on you.
What to do by country
Talking to the Police
Don't talk to the Police for any reason ever. Don't even say 'I plead the 5th'. Never, ever, under any circumstances, talk to a cop. Don't do it. For a 45 minute full discussion of why this is the case see this youtube video.
This section will cover federal law. Federal law in the USA supersedes state law so everything here should cover you on the whole territory of the colonial-settler state known as the United States of America.
Under Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(A), you can't give any information that will help you at trial. Your "Miranda Rights" (the unofficial but common name) state that anything you say can and may be used against you, not for you. If you said something to the police that can innocent you and your lawyer tries to use that at trial when the officer is called on the stand, the prosecution will raise an objection and the judge will sustain it, as it counts as hearsay.
Moreover, the 5th amendment protects any citizen from testifying against themselves. The Supreme Court in Ohio v. Reiner stated that
When you are going to be interrogated (not when you are first arrested as is sometimes believed), the police must read you your rights clearly and will ask you if you understand them. These rights are known as Miranda rights under their unofficial name, but they are officially called the Miranda warning. The warning usually states that: "One of the Fifth Amendment's basic functions is to protect innocent men [people in general] [...] Truthful responses of an innocent witness [...] may provide the government with incriminating evidence from the speaker's own mouth". Therefore you cannot be compelled to testify against yourself no matter the circumstances, but you may be compelled to testify in court as a witness.
You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and may be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one will be provided for you.
But the law for the warning does not specify standards (a way the warning must be made), all officers are free to state the warning any way they wish so long as it informs you of the various rights detailed above.
The police is allowed to lie to you or only say half-truths, and could call you to the station "for some more questions about what you saw" (implying witness, but never saying it outright), and then read the warning when you step into the interrogation room. This means, 100% of the time, that you are a suspect and this is now an interrogation. It is at this point that you must refuse to answer anything. You don't have to give a reason either.
Federally, if you say you wish to remain silent or you wish to have an attorney, the interrogation must cease. If you have asked for your attorney, you must have time to confer with them and they must be present during any question the police asks you. Some states are unable to provide you a public defence attorney during your interrogation and so if you wish to use that right, you will have to pay for your own.
Nonetheless, anything you say to the police in any interactions with them can be used against you in court. If a cop asks you questions on the side of the road, if they make small talk on the way to the station, this can be used. Your warning only has to be read the moment you are interrogated.
Perhaps an interesting case to look at that perfectly sums up this section is the Pellicano case. Anthony Pellicano was a private investigator who often worked with Hollywood studios and film directors. During a raid at his home, FBI agents found that Anthony would secretly record all interactions he had with his clients. This was illegal in California but none of his "victims" were aware of this. In 2002, film director John McTiernan hired Pellicano to wiretap his producer in a movie he was making. The other time John McTiernan had hired Anthony was in the 1987 during a divorce procedure. In 2006, an FBI agent called McTiernan and asked him how many times he hired Pellicano -- McTiernan replied "once, for my divorce". Yet John Mctiernan was seen in the tapes Pellicano had made -- both times (but McTiernan wouldn't have known that the tapes existed or had been seized). This lie to a federal agent, which is a federal offense, put him in jail for a year. However, the wiretapping conducted in 2002 fell under the limitation of statutes. If McTiernan had told the truth or better yet had said "I have nothing to say about this", he would never have been summoned in court or been to prison.
If the police asks for your identity, you must give out your first and last names. You are not required to carry an ID, but failure to present one will most likely get you detained at the station until they can check it, so it is not worth the trip if you can avoid it. Everything else you are allowed to decline or remain silent.
Ask if you are free to go. If not, ask what is the reason for your detention. Ask police officers for their names and registration numbers, but note that in some cantons they do not have to give it. It is important to write down their descriptions in as much detail as possible in case you need to file a complaint -- height, weight, facial description, tattoos, voice, hair, etc.
Switzerland requires consent from both parties before filming or recording for evidence to be admitted in court, but you are allowed to film the police if they are in a public space. If you want to record the police stop for yourself (so you can remember all details of it), we recommend you record from your video app and leave your phone in your pocket. If you are arrested we recommend you ask passerbys to film your arrest.
If you are temporarily arrested, the police must interrogate you within 24 hours, and you must be seen by a judge if they want to hold you longer than that. They can detain you for up to 48 hours but require a decision from the courts. The police must tell you the reason for your arrest in a language you understand. As per constitutional rights, you can see a doctor if you need to see one, you can have your medication if you are prescribed any, and you can phone your family or employer to tell them about your arrest. We recommend you contact someone you trust who will then contact the required people, as you may not be allowed a long phone call.
Immediately call a lawyer. You have the right to see your lawyer and you should do so. If you do not know a lawyer or can't afford one, you can ask for a public defendant. They may try to discourage you from seeing a lawyer, you must remain resolute. Your lawyer can be present during the interrogation and should be.
A body search can only be conducted by an officer of the same gender that appears on your ID card. They have to do it in two steps: first the upper body, then the lower body, or vice versa, but never both at once.
If your phone or computer is seized, ask for them to be sealed immediately. They are not allowed to open either of those without a warrant. You do not have to give out any passwords or other login information and you shouldn't.
If the police seize any of your property, ask for a receipt so you can get it back afterwards.
During interrogations, only give out your first and last names as well as your home address so you can receive follow-up documents.
The police may submit you a DNA sample authorisation form, telling you that you must sign it. This is not true, and you should not sign that form. If the prosecutor's office orders a DNA sample to be taken however, the police is allowed to use force to get it at this point so we recommend you do not resist. Ask for a copy of the order, as you can appeal in the next 10 days.
After an interrogation, they will have you read the minutes of the interrogation. You are allowed to edit or add something to it. We recommend you refuse to sign the minutes, as is your right.
If you have been a victim of police violence, please see your doctor as soon as possible to take notes of the damages. Time, place, who inflicted the damages, how, where, how the events unfolded... Explain what happened to the doctor and ask for a certificate. Take photos of the damages every day.
Police here are very friendly and love to chat. If you are lost or need a recommendation for a place with good food, Chinese police will happily let you know where to go.