Police and citizen interaction - Legal Powers Attorneys At LawRefusing to Talk to Police is NOT a Crime!

Many people don’t know their rights when it comes to running into the police. Interacting with police can be a stressful situation. The purpose of this blog is to give a little bit of insight into how Tennessee handles police-citizen encounters.

Before diving deep into the types of police-citizen interactions recognized in Tennessee, here are some baseline rules to keep in mind:

  1. YOU have a lot of power in the form of your constitutional rights. However, if you agree to speak with a police officer or let the officer search you, your car, or your home then you are unnecessarily giving that power away. So don’t consent to a search (and if you do, remember, you can ALWAYS revoke consent), don’t answer any questions you don’t want to, and don’t let the officer make you think you owe him or her an explanation for anything. Think of police like a bad ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend: you owe them nothing, you don’t have anything to say to them, and no, they can’t come over.
  2. Telling a cop what an idiot he or she is rarely a good idea;
  3. If an officer does violate your rights then that is a basis for having your case dismissed. Keep an eye on the bigger picture.

With those baseline points in mind, let’s talk about the different types of police-citizen interactions. In Tennessee, our courts have broken down police-citizen interactions into three different ways 1) a consensual police-citizen encounter, 2) an investigatory detention, and 3) a full-scale arrest.

 1. Consensual Police-Citizen Encounter

The first type of police-citizen interaction is known as a “consensual” police-citizen encounter. This type of interaction is a voluntary interaction with a police officer. If an officer approaches you and simply asks to talk to you without any stated reason you have the right to say “No” or “Bye Felicia” and keep on walking. In other words, you are NOT required to stop or talk with the officer or answer any of his/her questions. You are also within your rights to refuse to identify yourself under this type of scenario. This is because police officers don’t need any justification to approach a citizen and ask to talk but they are required to have a justification for making you stay.

Examples of Consensual Police-Citizen Encounter:

  • An officer helps you fix your flat tire
  • An officer asks about an accident to which you were a witness
  • An officer asks for your identification (you are not required to give your identification in a consensual interaction)

If, however, the officer is showing signs of authority – such as, for example, activating the blue lights on their patrol car, asserting any type of order to you, or otherwise exerts any power of you and your ability to leave – then the officer must have a justification based on specific and articulable facts for detaining you. A helpful question to ask if you’re unsure whether you’re free to leave is to ask “Am I free to go?” If the officer says anything other than “Yes” then you know its time to shut up because you are no longer  a “citizen” but instead are now a “suspect.” 

2. Investigatory Detention/Stop

An investigatory detention/stop is an encounter between an officer and citizen which is not an arrest, but which a reasonable person would not feel free to leave. An investigatory detention must be supported by the officer’s reasonable suspicion that a crime was or is occurring. An officer cannot stop a citizen off a hunch or gut feeling. The officer must base his reasonable suspicion on specific and articulable facts that justify the detention or stop. In other words, the officer cannot simply stop you because he wants to.

What To Do If Police Want To Question You

If an officer does have reasonable suspicion, then the officer can briefly detain or stop you for further investigation. However, you are NOT required to speak to the officer, you do NOT have to consent to a search of anything, and you DO NOT have to answer any of the officer’s questions. This is a key moment where SILENCE IS GOLD.

Examples of Investigatory Detention/Stop:

  • An officer activates the blue lights on the patrol car
  • An officer uses physical force to restrain your liberty
  • An officer frisks you for weapons

3. Being Detained By Police: Full Scale Arrest

A police encounter which ends in the arrest of a citizen is the most intrusive interaction between citizens and police officers. In order for an officer to initiate this level of interaction, the officer must support the arrest with probable cause. Probable cause exists when the officer reasonably believes that a crime was or is being committed. DO NOT assist the officer in arresting you by answering questions, consenting to any searches, or performing any tests or task. REMEMBER protecting your rights is something only you can do and the best way to protect your rights is to respectfully, but firmly, let the officer know that you would like to remain silent.

If you are in Williamson County, Franklin, Davidson County, Nashville, or the Middle Tennessee area then give Legal Powers, PLLC a call to set up a free consultation to discuss the facts of your case with a knowledgeable attorney. You will see why Legal Powers, PLLC, is the attorney you want to have on your side fighting for you in court.

The information in this website is not legal advice. Visiting our website does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. The information provided above is intended to be used for informational purposes only and we hope it may assist in understanding the evaluation of your case when speaking with a Tennessee attorney.