During a police encounter it is vital that you know your rights!

Consensual Contact

  • If an officer asks, “Can I ask you some questions?” it is perfectly legal to say “I’m sorry, I’m in a hurry and I don’t have time to talk to you right now.”  You are not legally required to answer questions that are designed to be incriminating!  In a police encounter, a simple request to speak to your attorney before answering questions is an acceptable and appropriate response.  If the officer persists, you are within your rights to ask “Are you detaining me? Am I free to leave?”  If it is really a consensual contact, the officer should let you go on your way if you ask to go.  The courts have held that unless an individual actually asserts their rights (asks to leave, tells the officer that they do not want to speak to them, or requests their attorney) that they consented to the questioning that followed.  And, if you consented to it, it can definitely be used against you!


  • The next category of citizen/police contact is called a detention. The police are only allowed to detain a citizen when there are “specific and articulable facts” supporting suspicion that you are involved in criminal activity. This means that they can’t detain you based simply on a hunch.
  • Specific and articulable facts (SAF) means that facts known to the officer, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, links you with specific criminal activity, and thus reasonably warrants the detention.   Further, simple ” ‘good faith on the part of the arresting officer is not enough.’ … If subjective good faith alone were the test, the protections of the Fourth Amendment would evaporate, and the people would be ‘secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,’ only in the discretion of the police.” — quoting Beck v. Ohio, 379 U.S. 89 (1964)
  • If the police detain you without SAF, the detention is illegal and whatever they obtain as a result of the detention (evidence or arrest) cannot be used against you in court.  That is unless you consented to the questioning or detention.  Thus, it is essential that you let the officer know that you are not “consenting” to talk to him.
  • There is nothing illegal about a police detention if they have SAF.  However, not just anything is a “specific and articulable fact” supporting suspicion that you are involved in criminal activity.  As the phrase says, the facts have to be specific.  A lot of police harassment situations involve the police stopping people because they “look wrong” and then going on “fishing expeditions” looking for a valid reason to arrest which they didn’t have at the beginning of the stop. Don’t give the officer a chance to find anything out – Just Say “No.”
  • If the officer makes it clear to you that you are not free to go, tell him, “I do not want to talk to you about this matter or any other investigation without my lawyer.  May I please call my lawyer?”


  • If an officer asks to search you or any of your property, ask if you are under arrest or if they have a warrant. If you aren’t under arrest and they don’t have a warrant, tell them “I am not consenting to a search.”  They may ask several times, and they may even tell you they have probable cause to search.  Just say, “No.”  If they have probable cause, they don’t need your consent!
  • If they search anyway and find something, you may be able to escape the penalty later in court. If the officer is obeying the law, they should leave you alone. The fact that you refused to be searched does not make you more “suspicious” and give them an excuse to search.


  • Once you are under arrest, DO NOT RESIST!  Volunteer nothing and answer no questions.  Nothing you can say will prevent you from being handcuffed and taken to the station for booking.  Anything you say can be used as evidence against you in court. Resisting being handcuffed or resisting any police actions/orders will get you an automatic “Resisting Arrest” charge…as well as any number of injuries as the police use whatever force they deem “necessary” to get you to comply with their directions. Your only response to any interrogation from the moment that you are told that you are under arrest should be “I don’t want to answer any questions regarding any investigation.  I want my lawyer.”

If you have had a police encounter that ended with an “unpleasant result,” call us immediately at 404-270-9289.  We CAN help you!

Dec 15, 2010Police Encounters

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