When Florida law enforcement officers interact with the public in the course of their duties, there are three levels of interaction that will dictate how any search or seizure in the course of that interaction will be judged from a legal perspective.
These three levels of interaction are:
Within each of these interactions, the person involved has constitutionally-protected rights. But those constitutional protections are different at each level. If those rights are violated, then it is more likely that your Fort Lauderdale criminal defense lawyer will have some success in convincing the court to suppress evidence gleaned in that interaction. Here, we review the rights and protections at each level.
Consensual encounters with police in Florida don’t require officers to establish any sort of evidence of wrongdoing. There’s no bright line rule for when an encounter is consensual vs. investigative, but we can say that a key aspect of consensual police encounters is that the person at the center of the interaction is free to leave.
The lines can get a little fuzzy because courts have held that law enforcement is allowed during a consensual encounter to ask you questions, ask to see your ID, might even ask to search your vehicle. If they say or imply that complying with their requests is mandatory, then it’s no longer a consensual encounter. However, police encounters can often be intimidating and people sometimes feel they don’t have much of a choice – even when they do. If you consent to answer questions or to be searched during a consensual encounter, it can be difficult to challenge any evidence gleaned from that – because you freely agreed to it. You’re often better off keeping your answers brief, politely declining any requests to search, and asking point blank whether you’re free to go.
In determining whether a police interaction began with a consensual encounter (as opposed to an investigative stop), the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the 1980 case of U.S. v. Mendenhall that courts should examine the totality of circumstances – and specifically, whether a reasonable person believed themselves free to go. Continue reading