Just because the police ask to talk with you does not mean you are under arrest. This is an important concept to understand because if you are speaking with the police and make a voluntary statement against your interest, your casual conversation with the police could lead to you being placed under arrest. Understand that mere police questioning does not constitute a seizure under the law. Some situations that I have come across in the past include:
- The police posing a question as to whether a person has an item of contraband on him or her does not compromise any legitimate interest in privacy because any interest in possessing contraband cannot be deemed legitimate.
- The driver of a car was not placed under arrest when, after the officer told the driver he was free to go and while the driver was still seated in a squad car, the officer asked the driver if there were any weapons or contraband in the car and whether he was certain.
- The mere approaching and questioning of a person seated in a parked vehicle is not considered a seizure. The contact becomes a seizure only if the officer, through physical force or a show of authority, restrains the liberty of the person in the vehicle. The officer here did not effectuate a seizure even though he parked his car in the middle of the street because he did nothing to show compliance with his requests was expected such as turn on the overhead lights. Further, the officer did not block the defendant’s car by parking in the middle of the street, and the use of a flashlight or a spotlight, without other coercive behavior, is insufficient to transform a consensual encounter into a seizure.
- The defendant was not seized after being cited for a broken windshield merely because the officer asked him if he had anything illegal in his car. The stop of the defendant’s car was by a single officer and occurred on a public roadway during the daytime, no weapon was displayed, the defendant was not touched physically, and the officer did not use forceful language or a tone of voice that would indicate the defendant’s compliance was mandatory. The fact that an officer poses questions to a driver after the purpose of a traffic stop has been concluded does not amount to a seizure automatically.
- When police saw the defendant leave his home and drove their unmarked police car across the center line, entered oncoming traffic, parked it so that it faced the car in which the defendant planned to leave, exited the car, told the defendant that they wished to speak to him, and then immediately told the defendant that they “knew what [he] was up to” and accused him of possessing cannabis, the defendant was seized. The reason this was considered a seizure was because the nature of the officers’ arrival and the immediate accusation of wrongdoing conveyed a sense of gravity and urgency that made the defendant reasonably believe that he was the target of a drug investigation and was not free to leave.
- A person is not seized when an officer approaches that person in an airport, shows his badge, and asks the person to answer some questions.
- Further, an officer does not violate the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on unreasonable seizures merely by approaching a person on the street or in other public places and asking questions if that person is willing to listen.
- A person may refuse to cooperate, and any refusal to cooperate, without more, does not furnish the minimal level of objective jurisdiction needed for a detention or seizure. A mere hunch on the part of an officer that a person may have been engaged in criminal activity did not create a reasonable suspicion merely because the person continued to walk away while the officer sounded his horn and asked him to stop.
- Police do not seize passengers merely by boarding a bus and beginning to question the passengers as long as the police do not bar the passengers from leaving, do not require answers, and do not brandish weapons.
Purav Bhatt is a criminal defense attorney serving the Chicagoland area including Cook, Lake, DuPage and Will counties. If you or a loved one is under arrest and charged with a criminal offense contact The Law Office of Purav Bhatt at 773-791-9682.