Chatty Officer May Actually be performing a Consensual Encounter

Meeting a chatty police officer could mean nothing more than they are approachable or talkative; however Utah residents are warned to use caution as a presumably friendly conversation with police could actually be consensual encounter.

Local festivities

Photo by: Johnny Silvercloud

Communities around Utah are joining together for a slew of holiday festivities tomorrow that guarantee to bring in larger crowds than normal. These large crowds necessitate cities to increase the amount of law enforcement on duty. As everyone- both young and old, rich or poor, normal citizen or officer, come together to celebrate a commonality, it is not unusual for Utah residents to strike up conversations with one another. Unfortunately, as law enforcement on duty continues to perform their job while spending time in the community, they will often use simple conversations as consensual encounters.

Consensual encounter

A consensual encounter is a tactic used by law enforcement to obtain information from a person without having reasonable suspicion to do so. If an officer wants to investigate a person but has not identified a viable reason to do so yet, they may do nothing more than visit with the person for a short while.

Consensual Encounter

Photo by: D_M_D

A consensual encounter does not violate a citizen’s Fourth Amendment rights as it is nothing more than an encounter that ends in a conversation and at no time is the person detained or otherwise unable to leave. It is considered a consensual encounter as long as the officer kept their questioning short and simple and refrained from:

• Drawing their weapon;
• Placing someone in handcuffs;
• Turning on police lights or sirens;
• Physically detaining a person;
• Blocking someone with a patrol vehicle; or
• Speaking with force or intimidation.

Terry stop vs arrest

Photo by: David Poe

If any of the above points end up taking place during a consensual encounter, it then becomes either an investigatory stop or an arrest. An investigatory stop, otherwise known as a Terry stop takes place if a person is detained briefly by law enforcement. In order to perform a Terry stop officers must have a reasonable suspicion that the person has been or is currently involved in criminal activity. This can include instances such as if illegal contraband is in plain view or if police have a hunch the person is armed and dangerous and wish to do a brief pat-down. Terry stop often consist of traffic stops and are to be no longer than 20 minutes. If the officer either has a warrant or develops probable cause during a Terry stop, then an arrest is made. An arrest is a more formal detainment such as being handcuffed and placed in the back of a patrol vehicle and this act should always be preceded by the Miranda Warning.

Questionable stops

All residents are advised to be aware about the possibility of increased consensual encounters during the festivities tomorrow. Anyone who feels they have been unjustly questioned or detained by police during a consensual encounter and are now facing criminal charges, it is encouraged to speak to a defense attorney who will ensure their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searched and seizures are protected.

Pulled Over without Reasonable Suspicion of a Crime

It’s a common misconception that someone will not be pulled over by police unless they give law enforcement reasonable suspicion that a traffic violation or crime is or has been committed.

Traffic stop

Reasonable Suspicion

Photo by: Matty Ring

According to the Prosecution Manual listed by the State of Utah, “in order to stop a motor vehicle, an officer must have [reasonable suspicion] that a public offense is occurring or has occurred. There are many legitimate reasons for such a stop which include, but are not limited to suspicious activity, traffic violations, and equipment violations.” Some of the most common reasons that a driver in Utah may be pulled over include:

• Speeding;
• Driving too slow;
• Failure to signal lane change;
• Broken headlights, brake lights, or other equipment issues;
• Distracted driving (phone, food, etc);
• Aggressive/hazardous driving;
• Following too close;
• Seat belt violations;
• Expired tags; or
• Suspicious behavior such as visible drug or alcohol use.

Drivers will usually avoid being pulled over as long as they refrain from giving law enforcement one of the above reasons to execute a traffic stop. There are some instances however when law enforcement does not need reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle.

Reasonable suspicion not needed

Section 6.4 of the State of Utah’s Prosecution Manual states that “there are times and situations when reasonable suspicion is not necessary for an officer to approach a vehicle or begin an investigation. ( . . . ).” One of the examples given is:

• If an officer happens upon a vehicle that is already stopped or disabled.

Other possible loopholes around an officer having reasonable suspicion to stop a vehicle include:

• During an Amber Alert when police are permitted to pull over all vehicle in the area of the Amber Alert to search for a missing child;
• If the vehicle matches the description of another that was used in a crime or that was involved in an accident; or
• If an officer misunderstands a law but had reasonable suspicion based on their faulty interpretation of said law. (Heien v. North Carolina)

Legal counsel

Photo by: Keith Allison

Criminal charges not related to traffic violations may result if a driver is pulled over in Utah. These charges can stem from behavior or crimes that may have gone unnoticed had the traffic stop not taken place such as if the driver was in possession of drugs, was driving under the influence, or had warrants out for their arrest. Any drivers in Utah who are facing criminal charges following a questionable traffic stop are encouraged to speak to a qualified defense attorney to ensure that their constitutional rights have not been violated.

Interfering with an Arrest in Utah When No Crime Has Been Committed

If a Utah police officer attempts to detain a suspect but a bystander is certain no crime has been committed, it is still recommended to allow officers to proceed to avoid facing possible charges for interfering with an arrest.

Do as you’re told

Photo by: Keith Allison

Photo by: Keith Allison

Law enforcement has been under increased scrutiny lately for many hot button issues such as police brutality and violation of constitutional rights. This has caused a widespread public disregard toward those once respected in uniform. This insolence toward law enforcement may give Utah residents the false notion that they can stand their ground if they feel someone is being arrested without cause. Unfortunately by interfering with an arrest, that person meddling may end up facing charges for their intrusion even if the charges for which they were interfering are dropped or deemed unlawful.

Interfering with an arrest

If an individual refuses to comply with law enforcement or attempts to stop a police officer from making an arrest, they can be charged with resisting arrest, otherwise known by Utah law as interference with arresting officer. Utah Code 76-8-305 states “a person is guilty of a class B misdemeanor if he has knowledge, or by the exercise of reasonable care should have knowledge, that a peace officer is seeking to effect a lawful arrest or detention of that person or another and interferes with the arrest or detention
(1) use of force or any weapon;
(2) the arrested person’s refusal to perform any act required by lawful order:
(a) necessary to effect the arrest or detention; and
(b) made by a peace officer involved in the arrest or detention; or

(3) the arrested person’s or another person’s refusal to refrain from performing any act that would impede the arrest or detention.”

Lawful is irrelevant

Interfering with an arrest

Photo by: Stever Baker

Although the above section states that no one should interfere with a lawful arrest, the world lawful is irrelevant as courts often look at statute’s plain language. For this reason, whether or not an arrest is lawful shouldn’t cause a person to decide that they have the right to get in the middle of police business. According to the State [of Washington] v. Holeman, “The determination of whether an arrest is lawful is often difficult and should not be left to bystanders who may have only a limited knowledge of the relevant law and who may let their emotions control their judgment.”

Acting within the scope of their authority

When it comes to making an arrest, officers are expected only to think they are making a lawful arrest. In the case of American Fork v. Pena-Flores, Nov 16 2000, it states: “Although police must have reasonable suspicion in order to make a legal detention, the use of “lawful” in section 76-8-305 does not automatically incorporate this standard in determining whether a person is guilty of interfering with a peace officer. So long as a police officer is acting within the scope of his or her authority and the detention or arrest has the indicia of being lawful, a person can be guilty of interfering with a peace officer even when the arrest or detention is later determined to be unlawful.”

Know the law

Regardless of what Utah residents feel toward law enforcement, they are not entitled to stop an officer from doing their job. Interfering with an arrest, whether or not it turns out to be lawful, will usually end badly for those trying to rid the world of injustice, one arrest at a time. If someone feels a person was detained unlawfully without reasonable suspicion or if they witnessed extreme use of force by police or a complete disregard for the detainee’s constitutional rights, it is best to file a complaint with the arresting officer’s supervisor. For those who overstepped their place and are facing charges for interfering with an arrest, contact a criminal defense attorney.