Three Types of Police-Civilian Interactions

There are three general types of categories involving police and civilian interactions: 1) Casual Encounters; 2) Temporary or Investigative Detention; and 3) Arrest. As to Casual Encounters, these encounters are usually exchanges of friendly information and does not implicate the Fourth Amendment concerns until a reasonable person would believe that he is not free to leave and has yielded to an officer’s show of authority. Investigative Detentions are narrowly tailored investigations to determine someone’s identity or to keep the status quo while the officer obtains more information. At this level, the officer must have specific and articulable facts, which would warrant the intrusion on someone’s freedom. Such articulable facts must create a reasonable suspicion that an activity out of the ordinary has occurred or is occurring, a suggestion to connect the detainee to such unusual activity, and that such unusual activity is related to a crime.

(1) Casual Encounters

A casual encounter with a police officer could be as simple as saying hello to each other or may rise to questioning by the police officer. What is important to remember is that officers do not violate the Fourth Amendment by simply approaching a person to ask questions. Nor does this type of interaction require any justification. In fact, the Fourth Amendment allows police officers to randomly approach people, ask questions and even request a search of the person or their property…as long as a reasonable person would understand that they could refuse to answer the questions or the search. The real question is whether the citizen feels free to leave or free to decline answering the officer’s questions. During a casual encounter, a citizen is free to terminate any conversation with the police officer at any time.

Important Factors as to Whether a Person Feels Free to Leave or Refuse a Search

Some factors that may be important as to whether a person may feel free to leave or free to refuse are: 1) Were the officers in uniform?; 2) How many officers were present?; 3) How voluntary was the person’s consent to talk to the officer? There is a big difference between asking to speak with you and ordering you to stop; 4) the person’s awareness that he could refuse; and, 5) Did the officer make a show of authority? A show authority could be an order to stop, an order to roll down a window, an order to open a door, or a person is restrained.

(2) Investigative Detentions

A seizure or detention occurs if, in light of all of the circumstances surrounding an encounter between a police officer and a citizen, the officer’s conduct would indicate to a reasonable person that he is not free to go or to refuse the officer’s request. A person is seized if, from his or her perspective, there has been a display of official authority that a reasonable person would not have felt that he was free to leave. A seizure may occur in one of two ways: (1) when a person is subjected to physical force, however slight, or (2) when a person submits to a show of authority.
A police officer is justified to stop and briefly detain a person for investigative purposes only when the officer, in light of his experience, has a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity may be underway.

Reasonable Suspicion

An investigative detention is reasonable and constitutional if the officer’s action was justified at the beginning of the detention and such detention was reasonably related to the circumstances that justified the inference of criminal activity in the first place. For the officer’s initial action to be justified, the Court must ask whether there existed specific, articulable facts which, taken together with irrational inferences from those facts, reasonably warranted the intrusion on the person. Specifically, the officer must have a reasonable suspicion that some activity out of the ordinary is occurring or has occurred or is about to occur, some suggestion to connect the detainee with the unusual activity, and some indication that the unusual activity is related to crime.
Reasonable suspicion is more than a mere hunch or suspicion; a person may not be detained unless the circumstances objectively support a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

Factors that, Alone, will NOT Amount to Reasonable Suspicion

It has been held repeatedly that a high-crime or drug dealing reputation of an area cannot alone serve as a basis for an investigative stop. The United States Supreme Court has emphasized the fact that being in a high crime area is not a basis, by itself, for concluding that a person was engaged in criminal conduct.
Further, the nervousness of a person alone does not warrant reasonable suspicion. Neither does walking away from an officer during a casual encounter, when standing by itself, warrant an investigative detention. The Courts have held that nervousness alone, being in a high crime area, alone, and walking away from the officers when they approached were not enough to establish reasonable suspicion and the search was illegal.

(3) Arrest

When dealing with the police be polite and do not resist a physical detention or arrest. However, exercise your right to be silent and your right to refuse a request for a search. Your rights exist for a reason and they are there to protect you! If you find yourself in this type of a situation, remain silent, do not consent to a search and call a criminal defense attorney.