Police/Citizen Encounters

Broward Criminal Defense Attorney Neil C. Kerch explains Police/Citizen Encounters…by Neil C. Kerch

Before an officer can stop an individual, the police officer must have “founded” or reasonable suspicion that the individual has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime.  § 901.151(2), Fla. Stat. (2004).  A “mere” or bare suspicion will not suffice.  State v. Beja,451 So. 2d 882 (Fla. 4th DCA 1984).

However, not all encounters with Law Enforcement fall into this requirement.  A consensual encounter is a police-citizen encounter where a citizen may either voluntarily comply with police requests or choose to ignore it, and does not give rise to constitutional safeguards because the citizen is free to leave.  United States v. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 100 S. Ct. 1870, 64 L. Ed.2d 497(1980); Popple v. State, 626 So. 2d 185, 186 (Fla. 1993); Brye v. State, 927 So. 2d 78, 81 (Fla. 1stDCA 2006).  Unfortunately, many people do not realize they are free to leave when Law Enforcement is making a consensual encounter.  This often plays a pivotal role in the arrest of criminal suspects and the search and seizure of evidence to be used in trial.

As a Criminal Defense Attorney, I always check to see if the consensual encounter has become an investigatory stop — where an officer may reasonably detain a citizen temporarily — once a police officer displays authority in a manner that would lead a reasonable person to conclude, under the totality of the circumstances, that he/she is not free to leave and feel compelled to comply.  Popple v. State,supraat 186; Williams v. State, 874 So. 2d 45 (Fla. 4thDCA 2004); Errickson v. State, 855 So. 2d 700 (Fla. 4th DCA 2003).

To justify a police officer’s investigatory stop, the officer must have reasonable, articulated suspicion of criminal activity. Mere suspicion is not enough to support an investigatory stop.  Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968); Popple v. State, supraat 186; Daniels v. State, 543 So.2d 363 (Fla. 1st DCA 1989).  If a reasonable person would conclude, based on the totality of the circumstances, that he/she is not free to leave, then the police-citizen encounter is a seizure under the Fourth Amendment and requires, at a minimum, reasonable suspicion.Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 111 S. Ct. 2382, 115 L.Ed.2d 389 (1991); Ripley v. State, 898 So.2d 1078 (Fla. 4th DCA 2005); Miller v. State, 865 So.2d 584 (Fla. 5th DCA 2004).  If the Government violated the Fourth Amendment rights, then the arrest and evidence gathered may not be able to be used in trial.

If you or a loved one has been arrested and you believe the police violated your Fourth Amendment rights, contact Broward Criminal Defense Attorney Neil C. Kerch for a free initial case consultation.


This post is only general information and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal advice. You should only use this post to familiarize yourself with the criminal justice process in Florida. Importantly, each case is unique and will not necessarily be handled in the same manner as described in this post. Please contact Neil C. Kerch for a free initial case consultation if you have specific questions regarding your involvement with the criminal justice system.

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