What to Do if a Cop Stops You on the Street
Picture this: it’s late at night, and you’re walking down Division Street in Humboldt Park. You pop into an alleyway to toss a bottle of soda into a dumpster. When you reemerge, a police officer approaches you and asks what you were doing. What do you do?
In Chicago, it’s not uncommon for a police officer to stop a person if there has been a recent crime in the area and officer feels the person is acting in a suspicious manner. While the constitution does protect us from unreasonable searches and seizures, law enforcement officials may approach you on the street if they have reasonable suspicion to believe you may have been involved in a crime. Reasonable suspicion is different from probable cause, which is what is required for an arrest, search, and seizure.
What Kind of Behaviors Could Constitute Reasonable Suspicion?
An officer may try to claim he or she had reasonable suspicion to stop you if you exhibit any of the following behaviors:
Presence in a crime scene. You may be stopped if you happen to be walking around an area where a crime has just occurred.
Matching the description of wanted criminal. A police may stop you on the street if he or she feels you fit the description of a wanted criminal.
Acting strangely. This could include exhibiting emotional, angry, or fearful behavior, or appearing intoxicated. It could also include loitering, running away, or looking for something.
Loitering around a high-crime area. A police officer cannot stop you simply for being in a high-crime area. However, an officer may try to justify the stop by claiming you were loitering.
What Are Your Rights?
If a police officer does believe there is reasonable suspicion and stops you on the street, your behavior may determine what the officer is allowed to do next. Below, we’ve outlined some tips for ensuring your rights are protected after being stopped.
Stay calm. It’s important that you don’t run, make any sudden movements, or argue with the officer. Make sure you keep your hands in clear site. Otherwise, the officer could use your reaction as grounds to search you, claiming your behavior made them afraid for the safety of themselves or others.
Don’t provide a false name. In Illinois, an officer may legally demand that you identify yourself if he or she believes there is reasonable suspicion to believe you were involved in a criminal activity. Never provide a false answer, as this could be seen as grounds for arrest.
Exercise your right to remain silent. Although it is often a crime to lie to an officer, you have every right to remain silent. The Fifth Amendment protects you from self-incrimination, meaning you don’t have to respond if a police officer questions you.
Withhold consent to search. An officer may ask you for permission to conduct a search of your person. In this scenario, you are free to deny their request. Police cannot search you if they can’t demonstrate they had reasonable concern for their safety or the safety of others.
Ask if you are free to go. A police officer must have reasonable suspicion to detain you. To determine whether the officer has reasonable suspicion, ask if you are free to go. If the officer says yes, walk away immediately and do not answer any other questions.
If detained, hire a criminal lawyer. Even if you are detained, it’s important to remember that an officer’s decision to detain you may not hold up in court if it was unjustified. Reasonable suspicion is an incredibly vague legal standard, and overzealous officers frequently make mistakes in their eagerness to make arrests. So if you’re stopped, frisked, or detained by a police officer on the street, contact an experienced criminal lawyer. An attorney can determine whether your rights were violated, and use this to defend your case in court.
About the Author:
Andrew M. Weisberg is a former felony prosecutor who now serves as a defense attorney in the greater Chicago area. He has extensive experience in handling all types of criminal cases, from sex offenses and domestic violence to retail theft-related crimes, Murder, and drug crimes.