Sahn Law Firm - Attorneys at Law

What Are The Most Common Types Of Police Encounters?

Police encounters can catch a person off guard, surprising you when you least expect it. If you or someone close to you, a friend, or loved one were engaged by police and subsequently arrested, the following will provide some basic information regarding these types of encounters:

First and foremost, you should know the difference between the three types of police encounters, and the rights given to you by the United States Constitution.

There are three types of police encounters:

  1. A Consensual Encounter
  2. An Investigatory Stop
  3. An Arrest
Overview Of Consensual Encounters

A Consensual Encounter is when someone is approached by a police officer and the police officer engages in a conversation. It should be noted that a Consensual Encounter does not entail any police commands, physical action or physical force, or any lights/sirens. A Consensual Encounter can arise regardless of whether a crime transpired, or whether there is even any suspicion of a crime at all.

During a Consensual Encounter, you always have the right to refuse to answer any questions asked of you by police.

Additionally, during a Consensual Encounter you retain the right to:

  • Leave the area / walk away
  • Decline to identify yourself to the officer(s)
  • Communicate to the police officer(s) that you choose not to speak to them

You can assess the situation and make a judgment as to whether a police officer is beginning a Consensual Encounter or perhaps a more formal Investigative Stop by considering the following:

Would An Average Sensible Person Feel As Though They Were Free To Leave In This Situation?

Quite a number of people would definitely not feel free to leave if a police officer was asking questions in a commanding manner, or if multiple officers were gathered around them. Never forget that you can always ask, “Am I free to leave?” A police officer is required to tell you that you’re free to leave if they have no real reason to detain you/keep you.

If a police officer shows commanding authority in a manner that restrains the person’s freedom of movement such that most reasonable people would feel compelled to comply with the officer(s), the Consensual Encounter has now become an actual Investigatory Stop.

Overview Of The Investigatory Stop

Another kind of encounter is the Investigatory Stop, also known as, Detention, or a Terry Stop, the latter referencing the legal case Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). In Terry v. Ohio, the Supreme Court decided that police can briefly detain someone whom they suspect could be involved in criminal activity.

The words to focus on here are: reasonable suspicion.

Police cannot legally detain an individual without a ‘reasonable suspicion’ that a crime has either been committed already, is in process, or is about to be committed.

If you think a police officer is engaging you in an Investigatory Stop, do not walk away from the officer. In an Investigatory Stop, you do not have the right to walk away nor refuse to identify yourself. You do however still have the right to communicate to the officer that you don’t want to speak to them, which is of course your Fifth Amendment right to remain silent from The Constitution of the United States.

Fourth Amendment rights also go into effect during an Investigatory Stop; this kind of stop requires proof of a well-supported, clear suspicion of criminal activity.

An officer’s reasonable suspicion for a stop of this kind depends on the complete set of circumstances in the moment, but simple suspicion or a gut feeling or hunch that crime has occurred or may be occurring is never sufficient as a reason to violate a citizen’s rights.

Simply stated, it is absolutely against the law for any police officer to engage in an Investigatory Stop of any kind without a rational and real suspicion of criminal activity.

Another technique utilized by police is known as, “Stop and Frisk,” which is a type of Detention. During this kind of detention, a police officer could possibly “frisk” your clothes, if she or he believes you are carrying weapons of any kind. And if the officer feels an item or object, etc., during the “frisk,” and she or he has reason to believe it is contraband, she or he may lawfully begin a complete search of your person because this situation has now become a ‘probably cause’ situation, thus there is a probable cause to search you.

After complying with this detention, the police officer is bound by the law to either release you or, if probable cause has been found, make the arrest.

Overview Of An Arrest

The arrest is the last, and most serious level.

To make an arrest, a police officer will physically restrain an individual or use their authority to clearly indicate that the individual is not free to go. There must be probable cause a crime has occurred in order to make an arrest.

It’s important to focus on these words: probable cause.

The legal standard within the law is ‘probable cause’ and as such there must be probable cause in order to make an arrest, conduct a personal or property search, or obtain a warrant for arrest. Probable cause is a substantially more powerful standard than simple ‘reasonable suspicion’ and as such it requires that facts or evidence be provided that could lead a rational person to believe that an individual has actually committed a crime.

There are a few special circumstances in which a police officer could make an arrest without a warrant and they are as follows:

  • There is a current warrant for an arrest that remains in effect, and the police officer is aware of that warrant though it might be held by another officer of the law.
  • If a felony has been committed and the police officer has a strong reason to believe that the accused did commit the felony.
  • In situations which a misdemeanor or felony is actually committed in the officer’s presence, thus she or he is witness to it.

Always remember: If you are being arrested or have just been arrested try to stay as relaxed as possible, in spite of it being a stressful situation. Never resist a police officer, this could endanger your safety and give the police officer one more opportunity to pile on additional charges. But ALWAYS remember that you have the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney.

Let us handle it from there. Call SAHN LAW FIRM if you’ve been arrested or feel your rights have been violated.

You have RIGHTS and you should USE them. At Sahn Law Firm, We Will FIGHT For Your RIGHTS!

For more information on Police Encounters in South Carolina, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (843) 856-2222 today.

Sahn Law Firm - Attorneys at Law, located in Charleston, South Carolina, provides representation throughout Charleston, North Charleston, Mount Pleasant, Summerville, Goose Creek, Moncks Corner, Daniel Island, Sullivan's Island, Georgetown, St. George, Hanahan, Santee, Isle of Palms, Folly Beach and Beaufort. The firm also represents people in the municipalities of Charleston County, Dorchester County, Berkeley County, Georgetown County, Clarendon County and Beaufort County.

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Sahn Law Firm - Attorneys at Law

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Charleston, SC 29492

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