Can you really ever walk away from a police encounter?
This question is one that many ask themselves during and after interaction with police. Most reasonably believe that you cannot simply choose to ignore police and walk away when approached by law enforcement. However, you CAN do exactly that in certain circumstances. It depends on the type of police encounter you are dealing with. Officers are taught that there are three types of police/citizen encounters: (1) brief consensual encounter, (2) brief investigatory detention, and (3) full scale arrest.
The first is the consensual encounter. THIS is the situation where you can choose not to speak with or interact with police at all. This type of police/citizen encounter requires no objective justification on the part of police. In other words, the officer does not need to point to any facts or circumstances that would lead another to believe that you are committing a crime or doing anything illegal. An officer can merely approach you and ask you if he/she can talk to you, just like any other person on the street, as long as a reasonable person in your circumstances would feel free to leave. When approached in this context you can choose not to answer the question/s and may decline to listen at all and go on your way. Furthermore, you cannot legally be detained in this type of context, even momentarily, without reasonable, objective grounds for doing so.
So how do you know when the police/citizen encounter is one where you CAN walk away?
To determine whether or not the encounter is a consensual one, you must ask yourself whether or not the officer is acting in a way to show his authority. For example, if an officer approaches on foot or pulls up as you are walking along the side of the road and ASKS if you would be willing to answer a few questions as opposed to activating his blue lights or commanding you to “stop,” then you are more than likely involved in a consensual encounter and may ignore interaction and choose to walk away. However, if an officer approaches and is waving around an arrest warrant, activating blue lights, and yelling “stop,” you are not likely free to leave. Sometimes it may be beneficial to just ask, “Am I free to leave?” and nothing more.
All of these situations are very fact specific. There is no hard and fast way to tell when you can just walk away from a police encounter. If you have questions or have been arrested and want to discuss your rights, call us today to set up a free consultation.