When Do You Have To Stop For The Police?

No matter who you are, an encounter with the police is nearly always stressful.  The police are intimidating and their equipment is designed impress and, in some cases, frighten.  Their uniforms are shiny; their cars are big; their sirens are loud; their flashing lights are bright.  They have clubs to beat you, handcuffs to bind you, pepper spray to blind you, tasers to shock you, guns to kill you, and extra bullets to finish the job.  Moreover, they display most of their intimidating array in easy reach on their wide black belts.  Even if you’ve done nothing wrong it is sometimes hard to focus on the appropriate way to act when talking to a police officer.  Furthermore, the first instinctual reaction that many people have when confronted with situations involving the police, is often exactly the wrong one.  This series of blog posts focuses on different situations in which a fellow might encounter the police, and what to do and what NOT to do in those situations.

Situation 1:
You’re walking along the sidewalk on a public street.  You are breaking no laws and, importantly for this hypothetical situation,  there is no reason for anyone to believe that you’ve broken any laws.  Also, no crime has occurred in the area that you might have witnessed.  A police officer on the other side of the street says, “Hey!  Stop!”

Maybe you’d ask yourself, “Do I have to stop?”

The BEST answer is: No, but you should.

The CORRECT LEGAL answer is: No, you don’t have to.

The absolute WRONG reaction is : Run away.

The WRONG reaction is wrong for two reasons: First, it is almost instinctual for law enforcement officers to chase someone who runs away.  So, if you don’t want to be chased, don’t run.  Second, it is possible, under certain special circumstances that fleeing at the sight of an officer can provide the officer with a legitimate reason for the officer to arrest or at least stop you.  Also, most police officers, courts, and jurors believe that flight is evidence of guilt, so if a crime has occurred, by fleeing you have just made yourself a more likely suspect.  This is not a wise thing to do.  In fact, if you are stopped and charged with a crime, at trial the jury will be instructed that the mere fact that you fled when approached by the police is evidence of “consciousness of guilt.”  This instruction will be read to the jury regardless of whether you are guilty or innocent of the crime for which you are charged.

The difference between BEST and CORRECT is more complicated.  Legally, there’s no reason for the officer to think you have done anything wrong nor does he have any other cause to detain you.  Thus, you would be perfectly within your rights to keep walking as if you had never heard the officer.  However, the results of ignoring the officer are likely to be poor and may involve a taser, being tackled, and spending the night in jail.  Obviously, if the officer is ordering you to stop he believes (perhaps wrongly) that he has some cause, or in legal terms, “reasonable articulable suspicion,” to make you stop.  If you disobey, he may decide (again wrongly) that he is entitled to use force to make you stop.  This might be legally wrong, but the immediate results of his mistake are going to be painfully unfortunate for you.  My firm has also encountered officers who, after an illegal arrest, attempt to report false facts in order to justify their actions.  It can be difficult to challenge an officer who does this as it is often your word against his.  Thus, although you might be within your rights to keep on walking, for your own safety and legal interest, you should always stop.  But it is OK, once you have stopped to ask the officer if you are free to leave.

This situation highlights one of the most important things to remember about interacting with the police – if the police do something that violates your rights, you do not have the right to stop them at that moment.  You can go to court about it later, but, at the time of the violation, you do not have the right to stop them.  If you are being illegally arrested, you cannot violently resist.  If you are being illegally searched, you cannot attempt to physically restrain the officers from searching you.  Generally speaking, the only thing you can do about an illegal act by the police, is to go to court after it has happened and address it through the efforts of a knowledgeable criminal defense lawyer.

If you have been stopped or questioned by the police in Columbus, Ohio, and wish to contact a Columbus Criminal Defense Lawyer, then feel free to call our office at 614 454 5010, and speak to an experienced Columbus Defense Attorney without charge.

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