Consensual Police Stops

Do I have to talk with the police? What is a consensual stop?

Many citizens are not clear about what their obligations are to police officers who randomly approach them wanting to talk and ask questions. Most people are good natured, want to be polite, and even helpful when people approach them seeking assistance and they are no different when the person approaching them is a uniformed police officer. The law allows police officers to freely walk up and talk with you, just like anybody else would be free to do in public. Everybody understands, of course, that you can choose to completely ignore somebody if an ordinary person walks up and starts talking to you in public. It may not be the polite thing to do, but everybody knows that you are under no obligation. Questions arise, however, when the person walking up and talking to you is a uniformed police officer.

Do you have the right to simply ignore a police officer? Like many good questions, the answer to this depends on the circumstances.

 

No Reasonable Suspicion

If a police officer has absolutely no reason to suspect that you are engaged in criminal activity, the police officer is free to walk up and start talking to you, but like any other ordinary person, you have the right to respond to the police officer however you wish. You can politely tell the officer that you are not able to help, or that you have other business and need to leave. The Constitution gives you the right to not answer any questions without your consent. This is why police encounters at this level are called consensual police stops. You have the right to consent, or not consent, to the interaction with police.

 

Reasonable Suspicion

On the other hand, if the police can explain at least some reason to suspect that you might be involved in criminal activity, they may have some limited right to briefly stop you and ask some basic questions. The courts refer to this as the reasonable suspicion standard. Under this standard, the police have the right to briefly stop you and require you to identify. They have the right to ask you questions about the suspected criminal activity. Furthermore, if the police can articulate reasons why they are concerned that you might be armed and dangerous, they have the right to conduct a limited pat down of your clothing to determine if you have any dangerous weapons. The law refers to this as a "Terry stop and frisk." During the frisk, the police can remove any items that the items feel like what could be a weapon.

It is vitally important to keep in mind that you always have the right to remain silent if answering the questions would incriminate you. Generally, the police have to tell you that you have the right to remain silent whenever you are under arrest and being questioned. If the police are merely questioning you, however, and they don't yet have enough evidence to make an arrest, they do not yet need to read you your rights and warn you that you have the right to remain silent.

Although you have the right to remain silent under the reasonable suspicion standard, the police do not have to tell you at this point. Your choice to answer any incriminating questions will be considered a consensual conversation and consensual police stop and will be fully admissible against you in court. When in doubt, the safest course of action is to politely tell the police that you do not want to answer any questions without first speaking to an attorney.

Even if the police tell you that you are not under arrest, you should never answer any incriminating questions without first speaking with an attorney. To speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you today, please call or click here to schedule a free consultation. Our team of attorneys are happy to meet with you in jail, if necessary, in our offices, or another private location that is convenient to you.

 

Probable Cause for an arrest

When the police can explain a reason to believe that a crime has been (or is about to be) committed, and that you are the person who has (or is about to) commit the crime, they have what the law refers to as probable cause to make an arrest. When the police have probable cause (or PC) to make an arrest and you are not free to leave, the law requires that the police explain your Miranda Rights to you before asking any questions. At this level, the police stop is no longer considered a consensual stop. For this reason, the police are required to warn you that you have the right to remain silent, the right to an attorney, and all of the other rights that we have become so familiar with from police movies and tv shows.

If you, or somebody you love, has been arrested you should not speak with the police about the alleged crime without first speaking to a criminal defense attorney. To speak with an experienced criminal defense attorney who can help you today, please call or click here to schedule a free consultation. Our attorneys are happy to meet with you in jail, if necessary, in our offices, or another private location that is convenient to you.

 

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