How To Handle a Police Encounter

police officer speaking to a woman

Every police encounter is always nerve-wracking. Even if you don’t think you did anything wrong, it can be hard to tell what cops can and can’t do while talking to you. Find out how to deal with police officers, and what to do if the police are looking for you.

How to Deal with Questioning During a Police Encounter

A police encounter can be as informal as passing each other on the sidewalk or as intense as formal questioning after an arrest. However, many of your rights when dealing with the police remain the same. Find out what to do during a consensual encounter, investigatory stop or detention, and how to tell if you are under arrest.

Do you have to identify yourself in a consensual police encounter?

Connecticut is not a “stop-and-identify” state. That means if the police come up to you on the street and ask for your ID, you have the right to say no. You may be required to give the police your name. However, your driver’s license or other state ID gives them a lot more information. By giving your name instead of your ID, you may be able to keep a consensual encounter from escalating to an arrest or criminal charges.

Remember that the rules are different if you are driving a vehicle at the time of the stop. Learn more about your rights as a Connecticut driver here.

You have a right to decline or end a consensual police encounter at any time. If the police approach you and you are not the victim or witness of a crime, do not agree to talk to them. You could inadvertently admit to something, or give them reason to think you committed a crime even if you didn’t. Instead say something like,

“I have somewhere I need to be. I can’t talk to you right now.”

Can the police put their hands on you in an investigatory stop?

If the police have “reasonable suspicion” that you personally have committed a crime, they can perform an “investigatory stop.” This brief detention, sometimes called a Terry stop by lawyers and police, allows police to ask questions and investigate whether a crime has occurred. During an investigatory stop, the police may “frisk” you, patting down the exterior of your clothing to look for weapons. However, if they find something in that initial frisk that they say they can immediately identify as evidence of a crime, such as a bulge they “know” must be drugs, they may be allowed to reach in further to retrieve that evidence.

Any time you are detained by the police you should avoid saying any more than necessary. Remember you have the right to avoid incriminating yourself. Do not answer the police’s questions without a lawyer. Instead, after identifying yourself, say out loud:

“I assert my right to remain silent. I would like to speak to my lawyer before answering any questions.”

What is the difference between detained and arrested?

A Terry stop detention can only last as long as needed to investigate whether a crime has been committed. Once they have finished gathering evidence, police must either let you go or formally arrest you based on “probable cause.” Probable cause means that it is more probable than not, based on the evidence the police have at the time, that a crime has happened and you committed it. If you think a Terry stop has gone on too long, politely ask,

“Officer, am I free to leave?”

If the police do decide to arrest you, they must tell you what you are being arrested for. If they tell you you are not free to leave, politely ask,

“Officer, what am I being arrested for?”

How to Respond to a Police Encounter if they Come to Your House

Your rights are strongest inside your own home, but you can easily give them up if you aren’t careful. If the police come to your home, follow these steps to make sure your rights are protected.

1. Be quiet inside the house

Once the police knock on your door, they’ll be listening to whatever happens inside your house. Don’t yell about the police being there or flush your toilet or you could accidentally create “exigent circumstances” to allow the police to enter your home to prevent harm to an alleged victim or prevent the destruction of evidence.

2. Ask who is there through the door

Before you open the door, call through it and ask who is there. This will force the police to identify themselves, and acknowledge their presence, so they won’t be able to break in the door based on claims you didn’t respond when they “knocked and announced” themselves.

3. Gather what you need before opening the door

You may be in a hurry to get the police to go away, but take a minute to put on comfortable clothes, a pair of shoes and a coat if it is cold. You should also take your ID with you, though you may want to leave your phone in the house. Don’t give the police a reason to come inside with you if they decide to put you under arrest.

4. Talk to the police outside

Once you open the door, step outside, and close it again. Unless the police have a warrant they need your permission to go inside. However, if they see evidence of a crime through the open door that could be enough to trigger those “exigent circumstances.” If they ask if they can go inside say no and ask to see their warrant.

What to Do if the Police are Looking for You

If you learn the police want to talk to you, contact a criminal defense attorney right away. Don’t wait until they show up at your home or stop your vehicle. By hiring a criminal defense attorney before the initial questioning, you can protect your rights and may even keep the police from issuing any charges if they can’t gather enough evidence. If they do decide to charge you, having a criminal defense attorney involved right away shields your rights and improves the chances things will be done properly.

The Lebedevitch Law Firm in Fairfield, Connecticut, helps residents and citizens protect their rights and avoid criminal charges. If you have had a recent police encounter, or have been questioned by the police, we will help you review the stop, evaluate any possible defenses or violations of your rights, and decide whether to enter a plea agreement or take the matter to trial. Contact us for a free consultation.