Know your rights

It is Important to Know Your Rights and Think First about the Law Before You Speak or Act

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, police abuse continues to be a major civil rights problem in the United States, particularly against the poor and disenfranchised.

Today's conservative courts generally support broad police powers at the expense of individual civil rights.

Santa Rosa and Sonoma County law enforcement are no exception. Illegal DUI stops and arrests happen here, and police statements and "advice" are often misleading.

You May Wish to Read the Following Internet Publications which Discuss Your Rights During DUI and Other Police Encounters

Police Confrontations:

State Bar of California, What Should I Know if I am Arrested?

Northern California ACLU, Your Rights and the Police (foldable)

National ACLU, Know Your Rights when Encountering Law Enforcement

National Lawyers Guild, Know Your Rights Manual

Midnight Special Law Collective, Dealing with Police

Special Situations:

Demonstrations: National ACLU, Know Your Rights - Free Speech, Protests, and Demonstrations in California

Immigrant Rights: Immigrant Legal Resource Center, Usted Tiene Derechos Constitucionales / Know Your Rights Red Card; and Northern California ACLU, Tus Derechos Ante La Policia / Your Rights and the Police

LGBTQ Student Rights: Northern California ACLU, LGBTQ Students Know Your Rights: You Have the Right to be Yourself

Student Rights: National ACLU, Speech, Walkouts and Other Protests

Access more resources:

For Sonoma County DUI arrest situations and all other kinds of Santa Rosa police encounters, visit

Also view the additional page links (upper left) on this Know Your Rights page: Bust Card offers generalized considerations for Santa Rosa DUI police stops, and Excessive Force & Police Abuse discusses local Sonoma County efforts to address police abuse during DUI arrests and all other kinds of police encounters, and lists all available local police agency complaint forms, and provides a continuing source of national police misconduct news stories.

In addition, on this Sonoma County DUI site Ryan lists internet links for a wide array of civil rights organizations, as well as websites for every single Santa Rosa and Sonoma County law enforcement agency. To view these "Agencies" links (and lots more access to the law and law enforcement), click on Resources and then select a category.

Consult a Sonoma County DUI lawyer for legal advice:

Note any publication dates on the above materials and understand that laws change, and in addition your circumstances may require different considerations. None of this information is legal advice because it isn't individually directed or tailored to you; always consult with a Santa Rosa DUI attorney, or other applicable professionals, about your unique situation.

Educate Yourself

To begin to understand your rights during DUI arrests and other situations, make a thorough review of these three web pages in the Know Your Rights section you are currently viewing (upper left). Visit the websites for the organizations referenced here, and search for others to further your understanding of your rights in various situations.

Carry a Bust Card

Bust Cards are necessarily generalized so lawyers and authors can address the most common police encounters in the areas in which we work (for example, DUI, criminal defense, immigration, free speech, etc). Most Bust Cards give you a good sense of your rights and provide a handy reference list which you can review and practice from time to time. If a certain area of law or life is not represented below, search for it online.

Review our Sonoma DUI Lawyer Bust Card for general criminal defense information.

Review the ACLU Bust Card, which includes immigration points, and which may be downloaded, printed and carried in a wallet. 

Review the National Lawyers Guild Bust Card for public protests and demonstrations, which may be downloaded, printed and carried in a wallet.

Review the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) Bust Card which may be downloaded, printed and carried in a wallet.

Review the Krages Photographer's Right Bust Card article which may be downloaded, printed, and carried in a wallet, or camera bag.

Local Sonoma County Citizen Efforts


The Santa Rosa Police Accountability Clinic and Helpline (PACH) is a Sonoma County all-volunteer non-profit organization, funded by the ACLU and private donations, which identifies and reports on abusive police officers and practices.

The PACH website states that it exists to document police abuse, and to help survivors of Police Abuse find safety and support. PACH also participates in community based civil rights education. PACH may be reached at (707) 542-7224. 


In 1990, the original Copwatch group, Berkeley Copwatch, began on Telegraph Avenue as an all-volunteer organization dedicated to monitoring police actions and non-violently asserting rights against the police. Since that time, many Copwatch-type organizations have sprung up across the nation, in various forms.

You may wish to visit the websites for Santa Rosa CopwatchNorthbay Copwatch and Redwood Curtain Copwatch, and consider their suggestion to memorize key phrases such as "AM I BEING DETAINED?" and "I DO NOT CONSENT," as well as their suggestion that if you see a police-civilian encounter, stop, observe, and film the incident. For Napa County, see, Napa County Cop Block.

Protected Speech

Filming Police Encounters

Make No Mistake, Filming the Police is a Dangerous Risk. Although Sonoma County DUI attorneys and civil rights lawyers believe that filming the police engaged in their public duties is fully legal and constitutionally protected conduct, nevertheless, one who decides to film the police assumes enormous personal risk of harassments, injury and arrest.

Convictions for violating state laws against filming anyone, including the police, without their prior consent have been upheld by some state courts, notably Massachusetts, Illinois and Maryland (see Gizmodo's "Are Cameras the New Guns?").

For an interesting examination of this debate, listen to National Public Radio's feature pieces: "This is the Police, Put Down Your Camera" (Morning Edition), and "The Rules and Your Rights for Recording Arrests" (Talk of the Nation).

From the right, watch former New Jersey Superior Court Judge Andrew Napolitano's commentary "Who Polices the Police?" on the Fox News Channel. From the left, read the Obama administration's Department of Justice amicus brief in Sharp v. Baltimore City Police Dept, where DOJ firmly states that the "First Amendment protects the recording of police officers performing their duties in public."

Arrests and civil rights law suits testing the fortitude of the First Amendment are increasingly common in Ryan's Sonoma County DUI Lawyer monthly reports of police excess and abuse posted on this very web page directly below, picked from the National Police Misconduct News Feed on Twitter. Note: after more than five years collecting daily news accounts of police misconduct in DUI and related arrests nationwide, Ryan figured he'd made his point and gave up cataloguing to spend more time on Sonoma County DUIs.

The political and legal landscape changes as more police abuse and killings are publicized by the media and the most restrictive laws are tested in the courts. See, for example, Illinois Supreme Court Strikes Eavesdropping Law as Too Broad. It may be true now, or at some time in the near future that police and the courts will widely understand that It's Perfectly Legal to Film the Cops. As of 2017, federal appeals courts covering half of U.S. states have now ruled that Americans have a First Amendment right to videotape encounters with law enforcement, according to The Atlantic.

But, the police are not often pleased to see anyone videotaping them. Numerous police agencies and police unions around the country have raised personal privacy objections, as well as claims of interference and public safety objections to such activity. The libertarian think tank CATO Institute states that the police continue to harass those who record police encounters. You may want to view their video, Cops on Camera.


Think First. If you decide to engage this risk, then remember that an effective, useful observer typically maintains a safe and objective distance rather than becoming a distracting, escalating or otherwise subjective participant in the incident.

Information to Collect. If you decide to record or film a Santa Rosa DUI arrest, or any other Sonoma County citizen-police encounter, then get witness statements with names and numbers. Immediately write down as much detail as you remember, including developments prior to filming. Add the names of police agencies, cop names or descriptions, badge & license plate numbers, date, time, and location.

Then, in the next 45 days, search the local Sonoma County police agency logs (for example, Sonoma County Sheriff, CHP, Santa Rosa, Cotati, Rohnert Park, Petaluma, Sebastopol police departments), and the press and internet, for the arrestee's name and contact information; any offer of film copy, witness statements and other information will likely be met with high praise and gratitude by anyone who believes they were victims of police excess.

Angry Insults Directed at Police

Asserting Your Rights Can Hurt. Just like other conduct perceived by police to challenge their street authority (see discussion above about filming police encounters), any good Santa Rosa DUI attorney or civil rights lawyer would caution that hurling insulting speech or making obscene gestures at cops undeniably heightens the risk of excessive police force, injury and arrest.

But there is no doubt that, absent evidence such as incitement, police interference, or assault (in your face behavior), simply directing expletives and obscene hand gestures at law enforcement officers has long been held by courts to be expressions of disapproval toward the police, and therefore, political speech protected by the First Amendment.


Knowledgeable Sonoma County DUI lawyers will tell you, it is clearly established that police officers may not use their authority to punish an individual for exercising his or her First Amendment rights. For a good discussion of expletives aimed at the police, and unconstitutional police retaliation, see, Ford v. Yakima (9th Cir 2013). 

See also, Merenda v. Tabor (11th Cir. 2013) for an examination of factors which might justify an arrest. For good discussions of flipping the bird at the police, see, Hackbart v. Pittsburgh (W.D. PA 2009).