Obtaining Justice
For The Accused

At Ahmed & Sukaram, Attorneys at Law, we have been saving clients from jail, years in prison, excessive fines and wrongful convictions since 2005.

Obtaining Justice
For The Accused

At Ahmed & Sukaram, Attorneys at Law, we have been saving clients from jail, years in prison, excessive fines and wrongful convictions since 2005.

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Being Stopped by the Police

An interesting and often-changing area of the law is the Fourth Amendment. This is a topic of frequent discussion among both lawyers and laypersons and an issue that the United States Supreme Court is regularly called upon to clarify. Below is a general synopsis of permissible actions by law enforcement under the Fourth Amendment with regard to when the police can stop you.

Types of police encounters

There are essentially three types of encounters you can have with the police: a consensual encounter, a detention, and an arrest. Whether an encounter with a police officer escalates from a consensual encounter to a “seizure” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment depends on how a reasonable person would view the situation. More specifically, “[a] person has been ‘seized’ within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment only if, in view of all the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.” (People v. Jones (1991) 228 Cal.App.3d 519, 523.)

The moment at which a detention becomes an arrest is not clear-cut. The United States Supreme Court has stated that “an investigative detention must be temporary and last no longer than is necessary to effectuate the purpose of the stop.” (Florida v. Royer (1983) 460 U.S. 491, 500.) When analyzing whether a detention has become an arrest, courts look to the totality of the circumstances. And federal courts have clarified that even extreme circumstances such as “[p]ointing a weapon at a suspect, ordering him to lie on the ground, handcuffing him, and placing him for a brief period in a police vehicle for questioning—whether singly or in combination—does not automatically convert an investigatory detention into an arrest.” (Allen v. City of Los Angeles (9th Cir. 1995) 66 F.3d 1052, 1056.)

When can the police detain you?

 The short answer is that the police must have “reasonable suspicion” to detain you. “A detention is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment when the detaining officer can point to specific articulable facts that, considered in light of the totality of the circumstances, provide some objective manifestation that the person detained may be involved in criminal activity.” (People v. Souza (1994) 9 Cal.4th 224, 231.) “[I]n order to justify an investigative stop or detention the circumstances known or apparent to the officer must include specific and articulable facts causing him to suspect that (1) some activity relating to crime has taken place or is occurring or about to occur, and (2) the person he intends to stop or detain is involved in that activity.” (In re Tony C. (1978) 21 Cal.3d 888, 892.) And “[w]hen discussing how reviewing courts should make reasonable-suspicion determinations, [the United States Supreme Court has] said repeatedly that they must look at the ‘totality of the circumstances’ of each case to see whether the detaining officer has a ‘particularized and objective basis’ for suspecting legal wrongdoing. [Citation.]” (U.S. v. Arvizu (2002) 534 U.S. 266, 273.)

Thus, whether the police have reasonable suspicion is not a clear-cut test, and requires an individual determination of all the factors in your case.

When can the police arrest you?

 The police can arrest you when they have “probable cause.” Probable cause to arrest exists when there is “a fair probability that a person has committed a crime.” (Bailey v. Superior Court (1992) 11 Cal.App.4th 1107, 1111.) Similar to reasonable suspicion, when deciding whether probable cause to arrest is present, courts apply a “totality of the circumstances test.” (Illinois v. Gates (1983) 462 U.S. 213, 252.) As a result, probable cause is an individual determination based on the specific facts of each case.

What should you do if you’re stopped by the police?

The most important thing to do if you’re stopped by the police is to remain calm. If an officer stops you on the street and starts asking you questions that you think may be incriminating or that you do not wish to answer, ask the officer if you are free to leave. If he or she says no, then politely say that you would like to speak to an attorney before answering, and do not answer any further questions.

If a police officer stops you in your car, again, the most important thing is to remain calm and be compliant. If the officer asks for your license, registration, or proof of insurance, always tell the officer where those documents are before you reach for them. You do not want the officer to think you are reaching for a weapon. If the officer asks to search your car, it is perfectly permissible to politely tell the officer that you would like them to go obtain a search warrant. And similar to being stopped on the street, if the officer starts asking questions that you feel are incriminating or that you do not wish to answer, politely say that you would like to speak to an attorney before answering any questions.

Last, in any encounter with the police, do not be combative, argumentative, or resistant. In other words, do not give the police a reason to become physical with you or use a weapon on you. Through cell phone cameras and social media posts, we’ve seen in recent times how police respond when individuals resist them, even in the slightest. Regardless of the politics of those situations, the most important thing you can do to protect yourself in an encounter with the police is to remain calm and be as compliant as possible.