Conversations with the Police When You are Not Under Arrest (Consensual Contact)

Tue, 01/30/2018 - 2:27pm
Just Talking

So what happens when a police officer approaches you?  Well, sometimes they aren't interested in you and pass on by, a greeting might be nice and all that is called for.  But, I would guess that most of the time if the police officer is approaching you they have a reason for it.  I mean, if I were a cop, I probably wouldn't ever interact with anybody without a reason given that I have to force interactions with people constantly as part of the job.  I'm sure Officer Friendly exists out there somewhere, but I wouldn't count on him being the guy who approaches me for no other obvious reason.

So why are you being approached by the police officer?  If you're in a parked car and an officer is approaching on foot he is either fixing to tell you to leave the area (quit loitering) or he already thinks you're up to something worse and wants to find out what.  If some obvious crime just occurred in the vicinity then he might be seeking information; did you see what happened? He could also just be bored, but this seems unlikely to me.  I would always assume the officer is trying to assess what I am up to unless there is some other obvious reason for the interaction.

When an LEO is figuring out what you're up to they are usually (initially) operating on a hunch.  Something seems "off" or unusual in an LEO sort of way and they want to learn why they think that is.  When they are operating on just a hunch you're best course of action is to calmly excuse yourself and leave as soon as possible. Getting suddenly (visibly) worried may give the officer something more than a hunch to go on so it's important not to do that.  When most people get nervous they either shut down entirely or start talking too much.  It's best to just act normal and leave.  "Oh, look at the time. Gotta run, Officer."

The notion of a hunch is important because if that's all they got then they can't detain you.  In legal terms an LEO has to have an articulable suspicion that you are or have committed some crime before they can arrest or detain you.  Once an LEO has talked to you for a minute any of them worth their salt can come up with a reason to detain you for further investigation.  Nervousness is one such reason.  So try not to give that to them.

As long as the police officer has no more than a hunch then you are supposed to be free to leave.  They cannot force you to have a conversation with them, so don't have anymore of one than necessary to get on your way.  I would generally say good bye and head towards the exit.  If you decide to have a conversation instead then anything you say has been voluntarily divulged and the officer needs not to have read you your rights in order for such statements to be admissible in court against you.

So what happens next?  You try to leave and the officer says "Hold up there, I need to talk to you."  At this point, although you may not leave (at least not safely), you are not obligated to speak to the police.  If they have clearly detained you then it should be on some describable suspicion that a crime is afoot.  At this point I would only indicate that I do not wish to talk and would like access to my lawyer.  A typical example would be suspicion of carrying contraband, like narcotics or weapons.  The officer is probably trying to develop probable cause to arrest and can do things like pat you down to ensure his own safety.  That pat down is something to be avoided because if they feel anything unusual they can then examine it without this legally amounting to a search requiring a warrant.  That's why you want to make every effort to leave.  Of course, if they find contraband then you will likely be arrested for possession of the contraband and taken to the jail.  Even so, at no point should you make any statements other than requesting access to a lawyer.

So to sum up, you really shouldn't ever volunteer any information and you should attempt to leave unless commanded to stay.  If you are commanded to stay then you should stay but you shouldn't talk about anything other than to identify yourself, indicate you don't have anything to talk about without access to an attorney, and request to leave.  If you talk at any point it is generally pretty difficult to get it suppressed later if it leads to a charge even if they haven't read you your rights.  

If you are in a situation where the police asked you a bunch of questions and then arrested you when you answered them you need to give us a call.  We're state wide with reasonable rates and excellent results.  (405) 601-9393.


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