"You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence." British police caution.
By far the majority of animal rights activists are never troubled by the police. If you are one of them then you can skip this page. But should the police arrest you it is well to know what to expect and what you can do.
Activists who try to change society by using direct action (see Direct Action) for any cause - not just animal rights - run a risk of police attention. Activists who resort to extremism (see Animal Rights Extremism & Terrorism) might expect arrest. You may even want to be arrested as part of your strategy if you carry out an open animal rights rescue or similar action to challenge the establishment and send your message to the public with greater impact (see Animal Rescuer).
Some common charges by police against animal rights activists have concerned offensive behaviour, intimidation, affray, obstructing public access, obstructing the police, trespass and property damage. The prospect of arrest can be emotionally disagreeable, so prepare by knowing what to expect.
The account of the law presented in this section is generalised for English speaking countries. But as laws vary regionally and from time to time, you may wish to find out which laws you might conceivably breach that are applicable to you. Should you think that you could be arrested you must get professional advice for the law that is a applicable to you.
In the Street and at Your Door
Spot the demonstrator. Police arrest. Photo: Salvatore Barbera / Wikimedia Commons.
The police can detain you when you are out and about. They may search your clothing and bags if they suspect you of breaking the law. Should you be in a car when they stop you they might search that too. On finding nothing, some police will let you go and give you a receipt with their identification number and the circumstances of the encounter. If they do not give you a receipt, make a note of their identity numbers and the circumstances, in case you need the information later; you may want to make a complaint if the police were unreasonable. After the police have searched you, ask them whether you are free to go. If you are not free to go, they may continue to detain you for a while or arrest you. In a serious incident you would do well to find witnesses. After the incident find a lawyer. If your were injured see a doctor for a physical examination to record your injuries.
Perhaps the police have been given information about you, think you may be dangerous and intend to arrest you. They might then arrive at your home in the early hours of the morning. That is the most likely place to find and nab you, while you are sleepy, assuming you might do a quick departure. The police may search you, but they might not have the right to search your house unless they first obtain a search warrant.
At the Police Station
At the police station the police should tell you the reason for your arrest, if they had not already done so when they arrested you. Depending on your country, you may be obliged to give your name and address, they may remove your personal belonging, and take your fingerprints, saliva swab and photograph. You may then be shown to a cell where you have to wait.
You may have to wait a long time in the cell, but the police cannot detain you for more than a certain period without charging you with an offence. Being charged with an offence means you will have to appear in court. The period of waiting in the cell could be 24 hours or longer (some say the police make you wait to 'soften you up'). Eventually they will get round to interviewing you. After the interview they will charge you with an offence or say you are free and not charge you. You might then soon be out of the police station and home again.
Go along with the police when arrested. Use force and they will subdue you. Resisting arrest can be a crime and look bad for you, even if you are innocent and wrongly arrested. Your best tactic is to be civil and co-operative as far as possible.
At the police station, phone a dependable family member, friend or colleague who can help you. Let them know the police have arrested you and tell them the name of the police station where you are being held. The police should allow you to do this. Keep the phone call to the point as they will not let you talk for long.
You may be emotionally upset so calm down and try to relax. Speak to the officer assigned to look after your welfare (you should have one). Ask for a drink, the toilet, medication or anything else you need. Do not rush. You will probably not feel up to it but ask if they will allow you to take notes. Ask for a pencil and paper and note what is happening and the identities of the officers involved with you. Details when relying on memory alone can fade and blur in the confusion of your situation and with the passage of time.
Know Your Rights
While being interviewed at the police station bear in mind that the police may not have enough evidence against you and might rely on you to incriminate yourself. Do not allow your situation to frighten you into admitting anything. You can best do this by knowing your legal rights. You always have legal rights although they vary from one country to another. Among your rights at the police station you may be able to:
- Know why you have been arrested and the charge against you.
- Inform someone you know about your arrest.
- Have a lawyer present and to consult with privately.
- Speak to the officer in charge of your welfare.
- Be treated respectfully and humanely by the police.
Two of your most important legal rights are to remain silent and to have a lawyer present. Remember that in the criminal justice system of the English speaking countries you are innocent until proven guilty.
You have the right in some countries not to answer questions put by the police. In the United States, under the Fifth Amendment of the US Constitution, citizens and non-citizens have the right to remain silent whether questioned by the police or other government agency (for instance FBI). However, in certain US states you do have to give your name and address.
After arrest by the police in Britain you used to have a right to silence, but that was rescinded. You must state your name and address, but refusing to answer other questions is not a crime as such and the police cannot force you to speak. So do not be intimidated that your silence might be held against you if you have the prospect of going to court.
Be careful when you do say something, even if you are innocent and think you have nothing to fear. Do not let any deception or apparent friendliness by the police loosen your tongue. It is always better to remain silent rather than lie, which can go against you, innocent or not.
During the interview the police may take written notes or record what you say. You may be able to see these notes or a transcript of the recording. But do not sign anything unless they describe your situation correctly and if your lawyer says you should sign. The same applies to signing anything, written by you or provided by the police. The exception is to sign a receipt for your possessions.
Having a Lawyer Present
You have the right to have a lawyer present in person at the police station and should be allowed to phone one. Tell the police you will say nothing unless you are advised by your lawyer and then will only answer through your lawyer. Be honest and straightforward with your lawyer. Having a lawyer present is not an indication of guilt. A lawyer is for you to use to protect your legal rights.
Your lawyer should advise you on what to answer and when to stay quiet. Even if you have nothing to hide, what you say could be misinterpreted, even distorted by someone and held against you. When you reply to questions through your lawyer only state what you are certain about.
Do not worry about taking a long time to find a lawyer. You might try finding one through an animal rights organisation, your trade union or professional association, or a Citizens Advice Bureau. If you cannot fix yourself up with one you might get a lawyer on duty at the police station to represent you. In some circumstances your lawyer could be free of charge.
Suing the Police
The police sometimes act outside their legal powers and if this happens with you then you could sue them. A common claim people bring against the police is wrongful arrest and detention for an act they did not commit. Assault by the police is another common claim. You will likely need evidence and witnesses to support your claim. Perhaps you can get free legal aid if you are unemployed or on a low income. On winning your case you should get financial compensation. Lose your case and you may have to pay the costs of your legal suit including the costs the police bore.
Keep in mind that law courts do not dispense justice, they simply dish out the law. Sometimes justice and the law coincide, but not always. You must seek advice from a good lawyer - no matter how just you think your case.
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