Saw a video on YouTube where a woman is being filmed in Walmart.

From what I understood, she was being accused of shoplifting (I guess rolled the cart beyond the registers without paying?), and then supposedly left her baby in the cart while running outside (although I am not sure if she was trying to run away, or just stepped out through the door, and then she came back in).

Long story short, I see in the video, a Sheriff officer whole is way way taller then her, all geared up, giving her commands to "stop talking" - he repeated that several times, and then just arrested her.

Question is, can you be arrested for now "shutting up", or other weird (to my opinion) commands? I am asking because the USA is supposed to be a "free" country, and not a police country.

Under what circumstances do you have to follow 100% of an officer's commands? For example, a person gets pulled over while driving. Can the officer command you to open the window fully (lets say you opened just a little crack to give away license and insurance)? How about to step out of the vehicle (can you refuse to do so until their sergeant shows up - just so you won't get shot and/or accused of some trumped-up stuff?)


3 Answers 3


In most US States (probably all of them) failure to follow the Lawful orders of a police officer is itself a crime, and is grounds for the officer to arrest the person, even if the person had not done anything wrong prior to that.

This obviously leads to the question: what orders are lawful? The officer has a pretty broad range of discretion. Ordering a person out of a car, or to roll down a car window, is pretty clearly lawful. Ordering a person to commit a crime would not be lawful. Neither would ordering a person to submit while the officer rapes or robs the individual be lawful.

In practice, the officer will usually think that all of his or her commands are lawful, and might feel threatened by any failure to comply. In which case, the officer might shoot. This might not be upheld later if the command was not lawful and/or the officer's fear was not reasonable, but that will do the person shot little good. It is usually wise to comply with any commend, unless it puts you very directly at serious risk.

Remember you don't know what else has happed to the officer that day. Has the officer had a fight with his/her spouse that morning? Just been denied a promotion? Been turned down for a mortgage? None of that should matter, legally, but it will affect the officer's attitude, and can lead to escalation, even if the person stopped is in no way at fault.

An instruction to "shut up" is probably not going to provoke an officer to shoot if it is disobeyed, but it might help to escalate the situation. It is probably lawful, depending non the exact circumstances. As to the first amendment issues, that would probably come under the 'time, place, or manner" regulations that may be applied to speech. And even if it is not held to be lawful, the time to contest it is in court, not during the stop.

If the officer feels safer with the window fully rolled down so that the officer could reach in, that is probably a lawful command.

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    "the officer might shoot": surely a failure to follow an order to "stop talking" would not be justification for an officer to shoot.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 8, 2019 at 19:59
  • @phoog: It depends on the situation, but the goal here is not to get shot. If the officer says "stop talking" and is crazy enough to shoot you if you don't, then the way to win is to live and fight another day... and shutting up is much more likely to not get you shot than yammering on.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jan 8, 2019 at 20:08
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    It seems that the goal here is to understand the consequences of getting arrested after having failed to follow an order to stop talking; we already know that the woman in the video was arrested rather than shot.
    – phoog
    Commented Jan 8, 2019 at 21:07
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    Telling someone to shut up is lawful? First Amendment? As far as rolling down the windows, Watch the following video: youtube.com/watch?v=gwYBshAScmEv --> is that legal to open the window just enough to hand over the license and registration, and avoid answering any questions during a traffic stop? Commented Jan 8, 2019 at 21:21
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    @KingsInnerSoul See edits to my answer in response to above comments Commented Jan 8, 2019 at 22:05

So there is two answers here: What is legal and what is practical. Without context (I haven't watched the video yet, but even then, I would also remind you that what is in the video is not always the whole side of the story and you need to understand the offense the woman committed might have occured before the released segment of video began recording) there is no law saying you need to shut up when an officer tells you to (in fact, Officers typically do not mind people talking more as it helps the case, as you have a right to remain silent... which hurts the case he's making against her, not helps his case.).

As a practical rule, it's in your best interest to do whatever the officer says on the scene and if he did something wrong, let the lawyers figure it out. As your post indicates, you are trying not to get shot or accused of trumped up charges, than it's far better for you to comply with the officers commands, even if they seem to violate the law, than it is to give them a reason. Keep in mind this encounter is out of the ordinary for you... but it is routine for the officer. Each time they deal with the public, somewhere in the back of their mind is the little voice saying "will this be the person who kills me?" It may be your thought too... and make you nervice in that moment... but it's a constant for a beat cop on highway patrol or responding to a call. Sometimes they have to listen to both the complaintant and the accused, who are naturally contridictory, while doing crowd control and keeping their own selves safe. It's a very stressful job.

I've recommended in similar answers that the best approach is to not only do exactly what they say, but explain what you are doing as you do it. "I am getting out of the car." "I am reaching for my wallet." "I am turning off the car's engine." You cannot help if the cop is twitchy, but doing what he or she says and slowly (bad guys who want to kill cops move quickly... hoping they get the drop on the officer... good guys who move fast will trigger a response. Good guys who move slow give the officer time to double check things.) performing those actions will put them at ease. Never ever reach for anything in your pockets, or out of his immediate field of vision without first announcing that you are going to do that or being asked to do it.

Addressing them with sir or ma'am is also helpful in releasing tension. Your goal and the cops goal in any situation is to come out alive and in one piece. No one wants to die in a shoot out or kill anyone in a shoot out, least of all the cops. If he needs you to step out of the car or turn off the engine, asking for a reason is going to escalate a situation... doing what he says is going to deescalate (it also looks good if you are compliant to the judge and jury and he's still a jerk and you don't usually die).

Some other tricks that you should be aware of: If he asks to search your car, you do not need to consent... but anything in plain view is reasonable grounds for a search. I am not encouraging any illegal activity, but if you do not want the officer to see something, before you drive with it, put it in a glove box, trunk, or other part of the car where it is not visible from the windows to the outside world. Furtive movements once the cops put on the lights will provoke a more agressive response.

Roll down your window fully and even if you know exactly why you were pulled over, always answer "Do you know why I pulled you over?" always answer in a polite tone, "No." Even if you pulled 65 in a 30... that was a school zone... and you were drag racing... Let him tell you. It could be because your tail light was out, which is a minor infraction. It could be because he has you dead to rights... telling him you were speeding may not be the answer he was looking for, but it makes the ticket easier to write when you show you know you did it.

If you are carrying a fire arm (legally or illegally) it is better to inform the officer of the fact (even if it's in the trunk). Tell the officer exactly where it is but to not reach for it or move without him asking you to retrieve the weapon or the paperwork. If the gun is legal and being legally carried, it may be as simple as that. If not, keep in mind the officer is now concerned with all scenarioes as to what happens next and needs to safely handle the situation. Do exactly what he says no more no less. Do it slowly... and be as compliant as possible.

If you are unsure if you are about to be arrested when asked to step out of the car, politely ask if you are free to leave the scene. A "No" is tantamount to incoming arrest and from this point on, do not say anything except to advise the officer that you will not be saying anything without your lawyer present (you don't have to have a lawyer yet). Don't try and talk your way out. Refusing to answer the police's questions is not evidence of guilt and cannot be held against you at trial. That won't stop the cops from asking more questions of you... they're hoping you start talking again. All answers should be silence or "Lawyer" at this point. If you receive a Yes, walk away. Don't say a word. Get out of there. Don't look back.

Never let the officer search your car (or house, or any property of yours) without a warrant. Cars do have some special rules, but basically if you have something suspicious in plain view, the cop can call in a warrant for another search, but if you have a body in the trunk, and the officer is citing you for a broken light, don't give him permission to search the vehicle.

At all times, remember that the cop can do more harm than you (I'm 6'4", 225 lbs male, and bench above my body weight... and a 5'2" 100 lbs female cop with a gun still will overpower me). It's the Police FORCE - Size Matters Not. I'll freely admit I'd rather be in the legal right when I have to deal with law enforcement... but I'm not going to pay for that victory with my life. If you feel the cop's behavior was inappropriate, that ticket has his name on it, and his office contact information... call the superior or the Internal Affairs (i.e. the Cops who police the Cops) or the Judge (Law and Order Doing Doing). Telling the cop he's wrong is not going to make things easier or safer for you.

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    As far as the firearm goes, it appears that Philandro Castile was killed because he told the officer about a firearm he had (and he was properly licensed to have it). Also, as far as the search goes, you can't stop the officer. What you can do is make it clear that you do not consent (and you should never consent). Commented Jan 8, 2019 at 21:14
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    @DavidThornley - That does not mean that the cop still won't panic or do dumb things. It helps immensely, but it's not mistakes. My understanding in that particular case is Castile was moving for something (most likely his wallet, I did not follow it closely). I did specifically state it is better to wait for instructions from the officer. As to the consent, you are correct, but again, the goal is to survive the encounter to get to the point where the Judicial System takes over.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jan 8, 2019 at 22:40
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    @hszmv Then I guess we will agree to disagree because those all sound like reasons to not say anything. I will follow my lawyers advice about talking to the police: don't do it.
    – Matt
    Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 14:54
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    @Matt: I won't disagree with that, as it is good advice. I'm examining this purely from the goal of preventing the police from shooting you AND violating your rights. You don't have to tell the cops about your illegal concealed fire arm... but if that's not what they are expecting and they are suspecting the stop is more than routine, giving them the knowledge that they will find it is safe if you really do not want the cop getting shot. Even if it's an accident, it will be a murder if its there illegally, and fire arm safety is not something to take lightly.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jan 10, 2019 at 15:31
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    @RyanJensen: Cite your source. I'm fairly certain that that is not the case (there is less 4th amendment protection of a vehicle than say a home, but cops are not allowed to pull you over for speeding and go through your car looking for evidence of an unrelated crime.
    – hszmv
    Commented Jun 30, 2023 at 10:38

You are required by law to follow all of a police officer's lawful commands. Whether a command is considered lawful or not can only be determined by a judge after the fact (i.e. you the citizen have no way to completely determine whether a command is lawful at the time it is given). A police officer is of course also free to make requests, and is free also to conclude any investigation they are conducting at any time they deem appropriate.

From the description you gave, it sounds more like the woman was arrested for shoplifting and/or some form of disturbing the peace (not for "not shutting up").

Answers to your follow-up questions:

  • Can the officer command you to open the window fully (lets say you opened just a little crack to give away license and insurance)?

The officer can certainly request that you do in order to communicate with you more effectively, your refusal to do so could be construed as you needing more scrutiny and conducting a more in-depth investigation of you (such as ordering you to exit the vehicle) than if you had simply complied with the officer's request.

  • How about to step out of the vehicle (can you refuse to do so until their sergeant shows up - just so you won't get shot and/or accused of some trumped-up stuff?)

A police officer may order either drivers or passengers out of a vehicle during the course of conducting a lawful traffic stop. (Pennsylvania v. Mimms, Maryland v. Wilson). Failing to comply could wind up with broken glass, forceful removal, as well as additional charges. You can request that you be allowed to wait in your vehicle until a supervisor shows up, but if they insist that you get out of the car then you are legally required to obey. One question left unanswered in Wilson was whether a police officer may forcibly detain passengers (i.e. keep them from walking away) once out of the vehicle.

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