To print a copy Click: Know Your Rights Booklet (Please read complete text below)
For more information or further inquiries contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
Know Your Rights When Contacted by a Law Enforcement Officer
- Understand that providing information to the FBI or any law enforcement officer, absent a subpoena, is strictly voluntary. You are not obligated under law to answer any questions from law enforcement officers other than providing them with an official identification card.
- You may choose to have an attorney accompany or represent you for any interview or questioning. We strongly recommend you consult with an attorney regarding the risks and benefits of being interviewed by law enforcement agents in your specific case. CAIR may provide legal assistance, or can refer you to an attorney.
- If FBI agents show up at your home or workplace and do not have a search or arrest warrant, you have no obligation to let them in.
- If they do have an arrest or search warrant, you can still exercise your right to remain silent. Comply with all directives and do not physically resist an officer. Be polite and respectful at all times. You also have the right to an attorney.
- If an agent or officer says they have some questions for you, you have the right to not speak to them and/or you may tell the agents or officers that you will have your attorney contact them if they wish to speak to you. Again, CAIR can provide legal assistance, or can refer you to an attorney.
- Note that anything you say to an agent or officer can be used against you in a court of law and that lying to an agent or officer is a criminal offense.
- Should you decide to speak to agents alone despite the risks, note that you may set the conditions of the interview, including choosing when and where the interview is to take place, having a third party present such as a family member or community leader, deciding which questions to answer, and refusing to sign any documents. You may cancel the interview at any time. (Ask the agent if you may record the interview.)
- Be sure to get the names, agencies, badge numbers, and business cards of all agents or officers.
- Contact your attorney to report the interview/incident and to discuss what may happen next. If you feel that your civil rights were violated, you may also file a complaint with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.
- MORE RESOURCES:
1. “FBI Interview: Knowing the Law Can Protect You,” by Ahilan Arulanantham and Ranjana Natarajan. InFocus News, February 2007.
2. Video: “Got Rights: Protect yourself and your family at home and at the airport,” by Muslim Advocates.
3. To file a complaint with the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, go to: http://www.justice.gov/crt/legalinfo/howtofile.php
[Please note: This above is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Should you have any questions about the material herein or about a specific case, please consult with your attorney.]
A Know Your Rights Guide for Law Enforcement Encounters
YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT
What Rights Do I Have?
Whether or not you’re a citizen, you have rights under
the United States Constitution. The Fifth Amendment
gives every person the right to remain silent: not to answer
questions asked by a police ofﬁcer or government agent.
The Fourth Amendment restricts the government’s power to
enter and search your home or workplace, although there are
many exceptions and new laws have expanded the govern-
ment’s power to conduct surveillance. The First Amendment
protects your right to speak freely and to advocate for social
change. However, if you are a non-citizen, the Department
of Homeland Security may target you based on your political
Standing Up For Free Speech
The government’s crusade against politically-active indi-
viduals is intended to disrupt and suppress the exercise
of time-honored free speech activities, such as boycotts, pro-
tests, grassroots organizing and solidarity work. Remember
that you have the right to stand up to the intimidation tactics
of FBI agents and other law enforcement officials who, with
political motives, are targeting organizing and free speech
activities. Informed resistance to these tactics and steadfast
defense of your and others’ rights can bring positive results.
Each person who takes a courageous stand makes future
resistance to government oppression easier for all.
The National Lawyers Guild has a long tradition of
standing up to government repression. The organization itself
was labeled a “subversive” group during the McCarthy Era
and was subject to FBI surveillance and infiltration for many
years. Guild attorneys have defended FBI-targeted members of
the Black Panther Party, the American Indian Movement, and
the Puerto Rican independence movement. The NLG exposed
FBI surveillance, infiltration and disruption tactics that were
detailed during the 1975-76 COINTELPRO hearings. In 1989
the NLG prevailed in a lawsuit on behalf of several activist or-
ganizations, including the Guild, that forced the FBI to expose
the extent to which it had been spying on activist movements.
Under the settlement, the FBI turned over roughly 400,000
pages of its files on the Guild, which are now available at the
Tamiment Library at New York University.
What If FBI Agents or Police Contact Me?
What if an agent or police ofﬁcer comes to the door?
Do not invite the agents or police into your home. Do
not answer any questions. Tell the agent that you do not wish
to talk with him or her. You can state that your lawyer will
contact them on your behalf. You can do this by stepping
outside and pulling the door behind you so that the interior
of your home or ofﬁce is not visible, getting their contact
information or business cards and then returning inside. They
should cease questioning after this. If the agent or ofﬁcer
gives a reason for contacting you, take notes and give the in-
formation to your attorney. Anything you say, no matter how
seemingly harmless or insigniﬁcant, may be used against
you or others in the future. Lying to or misleading a federal
agent is a crime. The more you speak, the more opportunity
for federal law enforcement to ﬁnd something you said (even
if not intentionally) false and assert that you lied to a federal
Do I have to answer questions?
You have the constitutional right to remain silent. It is
not a crime to refuse to answer questions. You do not have
to talk to anyone, even if you have been arrested or are in
jail. You should afﬁrmatively and unambiguously state that
you wish to remain silent and that you wish to consult an
attorney. Once you make the request to speak to a lawyer,
do not say anything else. The Supreme Court recently ruled
that answering law enforcement questions may be taken as a
waiver of your right to remain silent, so it is important that
you assert your rights and maintain them. Only a judge can
order you to answer questions. There is one exception: some
states have “stop and identify” statutes which require you to
provide identity information or your name if you have been
detained on reasonable suspicion that you may have com-
mitted a crime. A lawyer in your state can advise you of the
status of these requirements where you reside.
Do I have to give my name?
As above, in some states you can be detained or arrested
for merely refusing to give your name. And in any state, po-
lice do not always follow the law, and refusing to give your
name may make them suspicious or more hostile and lead to
your arrest, even without just cause, so use your judgment.
Giving a false name could in some circumstances be a crime.
Do I need a lawyer?
You have the right to talk to a lawyer before you decide
whether to answer questions from law enforcement. It is a
good idea to talk to a lawyer if you are considering answer-
ing any questions. You have the right to have a lawyer
present during any interview. The lawyer’s job is to protect
your rights. Once you tell the agent that you want to talk to
a lawyer, he or she should stop trying to question you and
should make any further contact through your lawyer. If you
do not have a lawyer, you can still tell the ofﬁcer you want to
speak to one before answering questions. Remember to get
the name, agency and telephone number of any investigator
who visits you, and give that information to your lawyer. The
government does not have to provide you with a free lawyer
unless you are charged with a crime, but the NLG or another
organization may be able to help you ﬁnd a lawyer for free or
at a reduced rate.
If I refuse to answer questions or say I want a lawyer, won’t
it seem like I have something to hide?
Anything you say to law enforcement can be used
against you and others. You can never tell how a seemingly
harmless bit of information might be used or manipulated
to hurt you or someone else. That is why the right not to
talk is a fundamental right under the Constitution. Keep in
mind that although law enforcement agents are allowed to
lie to you, lying to a government agent is a crime. Remain-
ing silent is not. The safest things to say are “I am going to
remain silent,” “I want to speak to my lawyer,” and “I do
not consent to a search.” It is a common practice for law
enforcement agents to try to get you to waive your rights by
telling you that if you have nothing to hide you would talk
or that talking would “just clear things up.” The fact is, if
they are questioning you, they are looking to incriminate you
or someone you may know, or they are engaged in political
intelligence gathering. You should feel comfortable standing
ﬁrm in protection and defense of your rights and refusing to
Can agents search my home or ofﬁce?
You do not have to let police or agents into your home
or ofﬁce unless they have and produce a valid search war-
rant. A search warrant is a written court order that allows the
police to conduct a speciﬁed search. Interfering with a war-
rantless search probably will not stop it and you might get
arrested. But you should say “I do not consent to a search,”
and call a criminal defense lawyer or the NLG. You should
be aware that a roommate or guest can legally consent to a
search of your house if the police believe that person has the
authority to give consent, and your employer can consent to a
search of your workspace without your permission.
What if agents have a search warrant?
If you are present when agents come for the search, you
can ask to see the warrant. The warrant must specify in detail
the places to be searched and the people or things to be taken
away. Tell the agents you do not consent to the search so that
they cannot go beyond what the warrant authorizes. Ask if
you are allowed to watch the search; if you are allowed to,
you should. Take notes, including names, badge numbers,
what agency each ofﬁcer is from, where they searched and
what they took. If others are present, have them act as wit-
nesses to watch carefully what is happening. If the agents
ask you to give them documents, your computer, or anything
else, look to see if the item is listed in the warrant. If it is not,
do not consent to them taking it without talking to a lawyer.
You do not have to answer questions. Talk to a lawyer ﬁrst.
(Note: If agents present an arrest warrant, they may only
perform a cursory visual search of the premises to see if the
person named in the arrest warrant is present.)
Do I have to answer questions if I have been arrested?
No. If you are arrested, you do not have to answer any
questions. You should afﬁrmatively and unambiguously state
that you wish to assert your right to remain silent. Ask for a
lawyer right away. Do not say anything else. Repeat to every
ofﬁcer who tries to talk to or question you that you wish to
remain silent and that you wish to speak to a lawyer. You
should always talk to a lawyer before you decide to answer
What if I speak to government agents anyway?
Even if you have already answered some questions, you
can refuse to answer other questions until you have a lawyer.
If you ﬁnd yourself talking, stop. Assert that you wish to
remain silent and that you wish to speak to a lawyer.
What if the police stop me on the street?
Ask if you are free to go. If the answer is yes, consider
just walking away. If the police say you are not under arrest,
but are not free to go, then you are being detained. The police
can pat down the outside of your clothing if they have reason
to suspect you might be armed and dangerous. If they search
any more than this, say clearly, “I do not consent to a search.”
They may keep searching anyway. If this happens, do not re-
sist because you can be charged with assault or resisting arrest.
You do not have to answer any questions. You do not have to
open bags or any closed container. Tell the ofﬁcers you do not
consent to a search of your bags or other property.
What if police or agents stop me in my car?
Keep your hands where the police can see them. If you
are driving a vehicle, you must show your license, registra-
tion and, in some states, proof of insurance. You do not have
to consent to a search. But the police may have legal grounds
to search your car anyway. Clearly state that you do not
consent. Ofﬁcers may separate passengers and drivers from
each other to question them, but no one has to answer any
What if I am treated badly by the police or the FBI?
Write down the ofﬁcer’s badge number, name or other
identifying information. You have a right to ask the ofﬁcer
for this information. Try to ﬁnd witnesses and their names
and phone numbers. If you are injured, seek medical atten-
tion and take pictures of the injuries as soon as you can. Call
a lawyer as soon as possible.
What if the police or FBI threaten me with a grand jury
subpoena if I don’t answer their questions?
A grand jury subpoena is a written order for you to go to
court and testify about information you may have. It is com-
mon for the FBI to threaten you with a subpoena to get you
to talk to them. If they are going to subpoena you, they will
do so anyway. You should not volunteer to speak just because
you are threatened with a subpoena. You should consult a
What if I receive a grand jury subpoena?
Grand jury proceedings are not the same as testifying
at an open court trial. You are not allowed to have a lawyer
present (although one may wait in the hallway and you may
ask to consult with him or her after each question) and you
may be asked to answer questions about your activities and
associations. Because of the witness’s limited rights in this
situation, the government has frequently used grand jury
subpoenas to gather information about activists and political
organizations. It is common for the FBI to threaten activists
with a subpoena in order to elicit information about their
political views and activities and those of their associates.
There are legal grounds for stopping (“quashing”) subpoe-
nas, and receiving one does not necessarily mean that you are
suspected of a crime. If you do receive a subpoena, call the
NLG National Hotline at 888-NLG-ECOL (888-654-3265)
or call a criminal defense attorney immediately.
The government regularly uses grand jury subpoena
power to investigate and seek evidence related to politically-
active individuals and social movements. This practice is
aimed at prosecuting activists and, through intimidation and
disruption, discouraging continued activism.
Federal grand jury subpoenas are served in person. If
you receive one, it is critically important that you retain the
services of an attorney, preferably one who understands your
goals and, if applicable, understands the nature of your politi-
cal work and why it is being targeted and has experience in
dealing with these kinds of issues. Most lawyers are trained
to provide the best legal defense for their client, often at the
expense of others. Beware lawyers who summarily advise
you to cooperate with grand juries, testify against friends, or
cut off contact with your friends and political activists. Coop-
eration usually leads to others being subpoenaed and investi-
gated. You also run the risk of being charged with perjury, a
felony, should you omit any pertinent information or should
there be inconsistencies in your testimony. Frequently pros-
ecutors will offer “use immunity,” meaning that the prosecu-
tor is prohibited from using your testimony or any leads from
it to bring charges against you. If a subsequent prosecution is
brought, the prosecutor bears the burden of proving that all
of its evidence was obtained independent of the immunized
testimony. You should be aware, however, that they will use
anything you say to manipulate associates into sharing more
information about you by suggesting that you have betrayed
If you appear before the grand jury you do not have the
same protections as in a trial. You have no Fifth Amendment
right to remain silent (if you invoke your right to remain si-
lent you may be held in contempt) and no Sixth Amendment
right to counsel, although you can consult with one outside of
the grand jury room.
Grand jury non-cooperation
If you receive a grand jury subpoena and elect to not co-
operate, you may be held in civil contempt. There is a chance
that you may be jailed or imprisoned for the length of the
grand jury in an effort to coerce you to cooperate. Regular
grand juries sit for a basic term of 18 months, which can be
extended up to a total of 24 months. It is lawful to hold you
in order to coerce your cooperation, but unlawful to hold you
as a means of punishment. In rare instances you may face
criminal contempt charges.
What If I Am Not a Citizen and the DHS Contacts Me?
The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) is now
part of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and
has been renamed and reorganized into: 1. The Bureau of 1
Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS); 2. The Bureau
of Customs and Border Protection (CBP); and 3. The Bureau
of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). All three
bureaus will be referred to as DHS for the purposes of this
■ Assert your rights. If you do not demand your rights or
if you sign papers waiving your rights, the Department of
Homeland Security (DHS) may deport you before you see a
lawyer or an immigration judge. Never sign anything without
reading, understanding and knowing the consequences of
■ Talk to a lawyer. If possible, carry with you the name and
telephone number of an immigration lawyer who will take
your calls. The immigration laws are hard to understand and
there have been many recent changes. DHS will not explain
your options to you. As soon as you encounter a DHS agent,
call your attorney. If you can’t do it right away, keep trying.
Always talk to an immigration lawyer before leaving the
U.S. Even some legal permanent residents can be barred
Based on today’s laws, regulations and DHS guidelines, non-
citizens usually have the following rights, no matter what
their immigration status. This information may change, so it
is important to contact a lawyer. The following rights apply
to non-citizens who are inside the U.S. Non-citizens at the
border who are trying to enter the U.S. do not have all the
Do I have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any
DHS questions or signing any DHS papers?
Yes. You have the right to call a lawyer or your family
if you are detained, and you have the right to be visited by a
lawyer in detention. You have the right to have your attorney
with you at any hearing before an immigration judge. You
do not have the right to a government-appointed attorney
for immigration proceedings, but if you have been arrested,
immigration ofﬁcials must show you a list of free or low cost
legal service providers.
Should I carry my green card or other immigration papers
If you have documents authorizing you to stay in the
U.S., you must carry them with you. Presenting false or
expired papers to DHS may lead to deportation or criminal
prosecution. An unexpired green card, I-94, Employment Au-
thorization Card, Border Crossing Card or other papers that
prove you are in legal status will satisfy this requirement. If
you do not carry these papers with you, you could be charged
with a crime. Always keep a copy of your immigration
papers with a trusted family member or friend who can fax
them to you, if need be. Check with your immigration lawyer
about your speciﬁc case.
Am I required to talk to government ofﬁcers about my im-
If you are undocumented, out of status, a legal perma-
nent resident (green card holder), or a citizen, you do not
have to answer any questions about your immigration history.
(You may want to consider giving your name; see above for
more information about this.) If you are not in any of these
categories, and you are being questioned by a DHS or FBI
agent, then you may create problems with your immigration
status if you refuse to provide information requested by the
agent. If you have a lawyer, you can tell the agent that your
lawyer will answer questions on your behalf. If answering
questions could lead the agent to information that connects
you with criminal activity, you should consider refusing to
talk to the agent at all.
If I am arrested for immigration violations, do I have the
right to a hearing before an immigration judge to defend
myself against deportation charges?
Yes. In most cases only an immigration judge can order
you deported. But if you waive your rights or take “volun-
tary departure,” agreeing to leave the country, you could be
deported without a hearing. If you have criminal convictions,
were arrested at the border, came to the U.S. through the visa
waiver program or have been ordered deported in the past,
you could be deported without a hearing. Contact a lawyer
immediately to see if there is any relief for you.
Can I call my consulate if I am arrested?
Yes. Non-citizens arrested in the U.S. have the right to
call their consulate or to have the police tell the consulate of
your arrest. The police must let your consulate visit or speak
with you if consular ofﬁcials decide to do so. Your consulate
might help you ﬁnd a lawyer or offer other help. You also
have the right to refuse help from your consulate.
What happens if I give up my right to a hearing or leave the
U.S. before the hearing is over?
You could lose your eligibility for certain immigration
beneﬁts, and you could be barred from returning to the U.S. for
a number of years. You should always talk to an immigration
lawyer before you decide to give up your right to a hearing.
What should I do if I want to contact DHS?
Always talk to a lawyer before contacting DHS, even on
the phone. Many DHS ofﬁcers view “enforcement” as their
primary job and will not explain all of your options to you.
What Are My Rights at Airports?
IMPORTANT NOTE: It is illegal for law enforcement to per-
form any stops, searches, detentions or removals based solely
on your race, national origin, religion, sex or ethnicity.
If I am entering the U.S. with valid travel papers can a U.S.
customs agent stop and search me?
Yes. Customs agents have the right to stop, detain and
search every person and item.
Can my bags or I be searched after going through metal de-
tectors with no problem or after security sees that my bags
do not contain a weapon?
Yes. Even if the initial screen of your bags reveals noth-
ing suspicious, the screeners have the authority to conduct a
further search of you or your bags.
If I am on an airplane, can an airline employee interrogate
me or ask me to get off the plane?
The pilot of an airplane has the right to refuse to ﬂy a
passenger if he or she believes the passenger is a threat to the
safety of the ﬂight. The pilot’s decision must be reasonable
and based on observations of you, not stereotypes.
Do I have to answer questions?
No. Minors too have the right to remain silent. You
cannot be arrested for refusing to talk to the police, probation
ofﬁcers, or school ofﬁcials, except in some states you may
have to give your name if you have been detained.
What if I am detained?
If you are detained at a community detention facility or
Juvenile Hall, you normally must be released to a parent or
guardian. If charges are ﬁled against you, in most states you
are entitled to counsel (just like an adult) at no cost.
What If I Am Under 18?
Do I have the right to express political views at school?
Public school students generally have a First Amend-
ment right to politically organize at school by passing out
leaﬂets, holding meetings, etc., as long as those activities are
not disruptive and do not violate legitimate school rules. You
may not be singled out based on your politics, ethnicity or
Can my backpack or locker be searched?
School ofﬁcials can search students’ backpacks and
lockers without a warrant if they reasonably suspect that you
are involved in criminal activity or carrying drugs or weap-
ons. Do not consent to the police or school ofﬁcials searching
your property, but do not physically resist or you may face
This booklet is not a substitute for legal advice. You should
contact an attorney if you have been visited by the FBI or
other law enforcement ofﬁcials. You should also alert your
relatives, friends, co-workers and others so that they will be
prepared if they are contacted as well.
national lawyers guild
132 Nassau Street, Rm. 922
New York, NY 10038
NLG National Hotline
(888) NLG – ECOL
NLG National Hotline for Activists Contacted by the FBI
Revised November 2010.