• Ahson Wali

What are your rights when stopped by the police?

Nearly everyone at some point in their life is going to be stopped by a police officer. Such stops can be uncomfortable and even a little scary. For this reason, it is a good idea to know what your rights are when stopped by the police. Police stops are categorized into roughly four categories: 1) consensual encounters, 2) community caretaking stops, 3) investigative detentions, and 4) arrests.


When stopped by the police, your rights vary based on the type of encounter involved.


Consensual encounters occurs when a police officer approaches a citizen in public to asks questions. Additionally, the person approached must be willing to listen and voluntarily answer. As the term suggests, the person may terminate a consensual encounter at anytime. This doesn't mean the encounter can't become something more if the officers consensual questioning reveals incriminating information about a crime. It is important to note that the scope of these encounters is unlimited, and so an officer is permitted to ask for any type of information, identification, or permission to search so long as the person consents. So, it is a good a idea to keep it short and sweet in this situation and then promptly walk the other way.


A community caretaking stop has been defined by the U.S. Supreme Court as a stop which is primarily motivated to stop and assist an individual whom a reasonable person would believe is in need of help. In determining whether a police officer acted reasonably in a community caretaking stop, courts will use the following relevant factors: 1) the location of the person, 2) the nature and level of distress the person is in, 3) whether or not the individual had access to assistance independent of that offered by the officer, and 4) to whether the individual presented a danger to himself or others. The scope of a community caretaking stop is limited to the concern for the safety of the imperiled person. Again, this does not stop the encounter from becoming something more than a community caretaking stop if the officer learns some incriminating information in the process of reasonably rendering assistance.


An investigative detention occurs when an individual is encountered by a police officer, yields to the officers authority, and is temporarily detained for the purposes of an investigation. Such a stop constitutes a seizure under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. However, investigative stops involve a less restrictive amount of restraint against a person than an arrest. In order to engage in an investigative detention, an officer need only have a reasonable articulable suspicion that a crime is occurring, has occurred, or will occur. The officer must be able to point to specific articulable facts, which taken together along with rational inferences derived from those facts, reasonably warrants the intrusion. Whether or not reasonable articulable suspicion for an investigatory stop exists is determined from the facts and circumstances known to the officer at the time of the detention. Courts will use an objective approach, meaning the officers intent or motive will be disregarded, to determine if the stop was proper. Although the state does have the burden of proving the stop was proper, the burden is low. Texas courts have defined the burden for reasonable articulable suspicion as "some minimal level of objective justification."


The next type of police encounter is known as an arrest. An arrest is the most intrusive of the police encounters discussed herein. An arrest is a near complete restriction on a person's freedom of movement. Because of the high degree of restriction of an individual's freedom, an arrest must be made with probable cause. Probable cause to arrest exists when, at that moment, the facts and circumstances within the knowledge of the arresting officer and of which he has reasonably trustworthy information would arrant a reasonable and prudent man in believing that a particular person has committed or is committing a crime. Generally, an officer must have a warrant to make an arrest. However, the law provides several exceptions to the warrant requirement. For an officer to make a warrantless arrest, he merely needs to witness any offense. A police officer may also make a warrantless arrest where the suspect is found in a suspicious place and under circumstances which reasonably show that the person is guilty of some felony, breach of peace, intoxication offense, or are about to commit some offense against the laws. Or where the officer has probable cause to believe: a) a person has committed assault with bodily injury and there is a danger that he will cause further bodily injury; b) a person has violated a protective order; c) a person has committed an act of family violence; d) a person has interfered with another's ability to make an emergency call.


An officer can also obtain probable cause for an arrest if an admissible statement gives him reason to believe a person has committed a felony. And in the situation where there is satisfactory proof that a person committed a felony and the offender is about to escape.


An officer may only make a warrantless arrest at the suspect's home when there is consent, or some exigent circumstance justifying a warrantless entry into the home. This topic will be discussed in more detail in a later section.


So as you can see, the police have a lot of room to maneuver when it comes to making an stop, detention, or arrest. And whether a seizure violates the Fourth Amendment is a factual and legal question which will likely need to be decided by a judge.


It is very important that when dealing with the police you respond in a courteous and firm manner. Do not resist arrest, and do not make any statements to the police until you have spoken to an attorney. Remember, no matter what type of police encounter you find yourself in, you are never required to give a statement to the police.