To print a copy Click: Know Your Rights Booklet (Please read complete text below)

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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.

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:

[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



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

answer questions.


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

any questions.


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

signing it.


■ 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

from returning.


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

same rights.


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

with me?

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-

migration history?

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

criminal charges.



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

(888) 654-3265

NLG National Hotline for Activists Contacted by the FBI

888-NLG-ECOL (888-654-3265)

Revised November 2010.