Sahn Law Firm - Attorneys at Law

What Are The Most Common Types Of Police Encounters?

Police encounters can catch a person off guard and surprise you when you least expect it. If you have had a police encounter and you or a loved one were arrested after it, this information may be useful.

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
Consensual Encounter

A consensual encounter occurs when an individual is approached by a police officer and the officer starts a conversation. A consensual encounter does not involve police commands, force, or lights and sirens. There is no need for a crime or even a suspicion of a crime to have occurred for a consensual encounter to take place.

The officer may ask you questions and you have the right to refuse to answer.

During a Consensual Encounter you have the right to:

  • Walk away
  • Refuse to identify yourself
  • Tell the officer you do not wish to speak to them

The test to determine if a police officer is conducting a consensual encounter or an investigatory stop is whether a reasonable person would not feel free to leave.

Many people would feel as if they are not free to leave if the officer is asking the individual questions in a forceful manner or if several officers surround the individual. When in doubt simply ask the officer, “Am I free to leave?”

If a police officer shows authority in a manner that restrains the individual’s freedom of movement such that a reasonable person would feel compelled to comply, the consensual encounter has now become an investigatory stop.

Investigatory Stop

The second type of encounter is called an Investigatory Stop or Detention, also known as a Terry Stop. This comes from the legal case Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). In Terry, the Supreme Court held that police may briefly detain an individual who they reasonably suspect is involved in criminal activity.

The key term here is reasonable suspicion.

In order for a police officer to detain a person for investigation, the officer must have reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime.

During an Investigatory Stop you do not have the right to walk away. You do not have the right to refuse to identify yourself. However, you do have the right to tell the officer you do not wish to speak to them. Remember, this is your constitutionally guaranteed Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

The United States Constitution states, “Citizen’s Fourth Amendment rights are triggered during investigatory stop, and such stop requires proof of well-founded, articulable suspicion of criminal activity.”

Whether an officer has a founded suspicion for a stop depends on the totality of the circumstances, in light of the officer’s knowledge and experience; just the suspicion or a mere hunch that criminal activity may be occurring is not sufficient.

In other words, it is against the law for a police officer to conduct an investigatory stop without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

“Stop and Frisk” is another term for detention. During this brief detention, the police officer may “frisk” your outer clothing, if he or she has reason to believe you have any weapons on you. This is done for the officer’s safety. However, during this frisk, if the officer feels something from plain touch and can tell it is contraband they can then do a full search of your person because now they have probable cause to conduct a search.

After this detention, the officer must either let you go or, if probable cause is found, make an arrest.


The last level of police encounters involves an arrest.

An officer makes an arrest by physically restraining a person or by using authority in order to show that the individual is not free to leave. The officer must have probable cause that the individual committed a crime in order to make the arrest.

The key term here is probable cause.

Probable cause is the legal standard that a police officer must have in order to make an arrest, conduct a personal or property search, or obtain a warrant for arrest. Probable cause is a stronger standard than reasonable suspicion and because of that it requires facts or evidence that would lead a reasonable person to believe that a suspect has committed a crime.

A police officer may make an arrest without a warrant in several circumstances, some of those include:

  • A warrant for an arrest has been issued which is still in effect, and the officer knows of the warrant even though another officer holds it.
  • A felony committed and the officer has reason to believe the accused committed the felony.
  • A misdemeanor or felony committed in the officer’s presence.

If you are arrested try to stay calm. Do not resist the officer, this will only make things worse and give the officer another opportunity to add an additional charge to your record. But most of all remember your right to remain silent and your right to an attorney.

Let us handle it from there. Call Sahn Law Firm – Attorneys at Law if you’ve been arrested or feel your rights have been violated.

You have RIGHTS and you should USE them. At Sahn Law Firm – Attorneys at Law, 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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Charleston, SC 29492

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