Consensual police encounters and your fundamental rights

Back in November, a Florida man became engaged in a "consensual encounter" with a police officer, meaning that both of them entered into a conversation willingly. This encounter led to a search that discovered cocaine and the man ended up serving five years in prison.

This case highlights some important issues that may face people who are stopped by police for a chat. Though these encounters are called "consensual," police officers enjoy a position of authority that often places them at an advantage in conversational situations. When you're faced with an armed officer you may not exactly feel like you're standing on a level playing field.

This is not an isolated situation. It is common for non-suspicious, law-abiding people to be stopped by police for no official reason. If this happens, it is important to remember that you are under no legal obligation to speak with police. It is wise not to be rude or flee from law enforcement officials lest an encounter turn sour and give them reason to conduct a search, however.

Simply tell the unwelcome officer that you do not wish to engage in conversation. Some experts recommend asking "Why?" if an officer asks you a question or stops you. If their answer is vague or worrisome to you, just say "no" or "I am not answering."

The most important thing is to be clear about your desire and your intentions. If the matter ends up in court it is very helpful to be able to show that you were explicit with officers and acted within the bounds of the law.

If you or someone you love have had fundamental rights violated by law enforcement officials, whether as part of a criminal proceeding or not, it is important to work with someone who can help. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help you preserve the rights to which you are entitled while working toward the best possible outcome in your case.

Source: Slate, "Here are some tips on how to avoid 'consensual' police encounters," Justin Peters, Jan. 3, 2013

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