Knowing your rights when confronted by the police is the first step to
protecting your freedom. Police officers are charged with maintaining
order and enforcing the law. Unfortunately, these same officers may at
times disregard your constitutional rights to be free from unreasonable
searches and seizures of your persons and effects, your home, and your
car. The following are the basic rights that you should be aware of when
confronted by the police.
Florida recognizes three types’ levels of police encounters. The
three levels are: (1) consensual encounters, (2) investigatory stop, and
(3) formal arrest. Each encounter carries different rights for the citizens
that are very important and should be exercised by the citizen.
Consensual encounters involve minimal police contact and intrusion. Normally
this encounter begins when an officer approaches a person to ask if the
person is willing to answer a few questions. Typical questions or statements
are: “Where are you going?”, “What are you doing?”,
“Can I search you?”. During a consensual encounter a citizen
may comply voluntarily with an officer’s request or choose to ignore
them. When a police encounter is truly consensual, you are free to leave
and can simply walk away. During a consensual encounter, you are in control!
You don’t have to answer any questions, you don’t have to
take any actions or consent to a search, and you don’t have to stay.
When confronted by the police, ask them whether they are conducting a
consensual encounter, if they refuse to answer or say yes, then say no
more and walk away.
When an officer changes his questions to commands, the consensual encounter
escalates to the second level of encounters—the investigatory stop.
At this level, police officers may reasonably detain a citizen temporarily
if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that a person has committed
, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. This type of encounter
is only permitted by law when an officer has a well-founded, articulable
suspicion of criminal activity. Mere suspicion is not enough and is a
violation of your Fourth Amendment rights! If an officer restricts your
freedom to move, uses his show of authority to make you follow his commands,
uses his emergency lights to confront you, approaches you with hand on
his weapon, or grabs you to frisk or pat you down, then the courts have
found that the reasonable person would not feel free to leave and therefore
the encounter is an investigatory stop. It is very important to protect
your rights at this stage. Do not make any statements, Do not consent
to any searches, Do not voluntarily remove anything from your pockets
or purses. If you are arrested, the officer will have to prove that you
were lawfully detained and that any evidence they gained against you was
retrieved lawfully—Do not consent!
Lastly, the final level of police encounter is the formal arrest. The arrest
of a citizen must be supported by probable cause that a crime has been
or is being committed. If you are being formally arrested, nothing you
can do or say will change to officer’s mind to arrest you. It is
best to stay calm, ask to speak with an attorney immediately, and remain
silent. Remaining silent will prevent you from creating evidence which
may be used against you. Do not consent to any testing or interviews without
first speaking to your attorney. Do not sign any affidavits or waivers
during or after the arrest.
These are your rights. They are the foundation of our freedom. Know your
rights and exercise them when encountered by the police.