Handling Unlawful Georgia Police Encounters
An encounter with law enforcement can be unsettling. Police are trained to uncover criminal wrongdoing, and being approached by an officer can insight fear—even if you’ve done nothing wrong.
These types of encounters can be classified into three different tiers: consensual (first), investigatory (second), and an arrest (third). Similarly, police officers typically approach civilians in one of three scenarios: while in public, while in a vehicle, or while in a private place.
Tiers of Police Encounters
- First-Tier Encounters (consensual): During a first-tier encounter, engagement with an officer does not mean you are suspected of committing a crime. This could consist of a simple greeting, or being asked questions without seizure or detention. An officer does not need to have “articulable suspicion” that you’ve committed a crime during this type of encounter, and you are not obligated to engage with the police—you can ignore an officer or walk away.
- Second-Tier Encounters (investigatory): A second-tier encounter is an investigatory stop, where you may be detained if an officer is able to articulate suspicion of you committing a crime. For example, if an officer witnesses you violating a traffic law and pulls you over. In these types of encounters, you do not have the right to leave until cleared by the officer.
It is important to note that an officer does not have reasonable cause to approach you simply because you’re acting nervous, suspicious, or are in a high-crime area. He or she must be able to articulate suspicion that you are violating the law in order to detain or seize you.
- Third-Tier Encounters (arrests): An investigatory stop can lead to your arrest, which would be classified as a third-tier encounter. This happens only if an officer has enough probable cause to extend an investigatory detention to an arrest.
Where Can Police Encounters Take Place?
Encounters with law enforcement can happen in a few different scenarios. You can be approached in public, such as while you are walking down the street, or while you are in your vehicle. You can also have a run-in with police while in a private place, such as your home.
- Public Encounters: Being approached in public often falls into the “first-tier encounter” category, as it is consensual. During these types of consensual encounters, it is important to still be respectful and ask if you are free to walk away if you are unsure.
- Vehicle Encounters: Since driving is a state mandated privilege, your rights are more limited in a vehicle than if you are in public. An officer can patrol you if they suspect you’ve broken the law, or pull you over for a traffic stop.
If you’re being patrolled by an officer, it is recommended to avoid side streets, pull over at a public place, and gather the officer’s license plate number. If you’re pulled over for a traffic stop, be mindful to stay in your vehicle and never consent to a search without a warrant.
- Private Encounters: Unlike vehicle encounters, your rights are strongest in a private place such as your home. If an officer approaches your home, it is recommended to gather information first without opening the door, and to not give permission for an officer to enter the home without a warrant.
Being approached by law enforcement can be nerve-wracking, and you may be unsure of how to act. To learn more about your rights, contact The Turner Firm, LLC at (912) 303-5547.