A police officer can ask to speak to you at any time. The duration of the encounter and whether your response is voluntary or mandatory differs depending on the nature of the stop. Generally, there are three types of interactions with the police:
- Consensual voluntary encounter– If a police officer stops you without a warrant, probable cause, or reasonable suspicion that a crime is afoot and asks a question unrelated to any specific investigationor crime, you may refuse to provide information or to be searched and walk away. In reality, it is often difficult to assess whether the officer is conducting an investigation, thus, it is a good idea to be polite and ask the officer, ‘Am I free to go?’ If the officer says ‘yes,’ then you are free to leave.
- Investigative Stop– Section 901.151, Florida Statutes is known as Florida’s “stop and frisk law.” This statute codifies the principles outlined by the United States Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.E d.2d 889 (1968). If the police officer has reasonable, articulable suspicion that you have committed, are committing, or are about to commit a crime in violation of state criminal laws or the criminal ordinances of any city or county, the officer may conduct a brief investigatory stop. Mere suspicion is not enough to support a stop. Popple v. State, 626 So. 2d 185 (Fla. 1993). The officer may temporarily detain you for only as long as reasonably necessary to ascertain your identity and to conduct an investigation and/or dispel their suspicion. The officer is also required to detain you in the immediate vicinity of the encounter. The officer may pat you down if he or she has a reasonable fear for the officer’s safety or for the safety of others.
- Arrest– In order to put you under arrest, the police must believe a crime has been committed and that you are the person that committed the crime. When the police significantly deprive you of your freedom of movement in order to question you about a crime or take you into custody, you are legally considered under arrest. You could be under arrest even though no one has used the word “arrest.” In order to be considered under arrest, it must be evident that, under the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable person in your position would feel a restraint of freedom of movement, so that you do not feel free to leave or to terminate the encounter with police. Abraham v. State, 155 So. 3d 491 (Fla. 3d DCA 2015).
If you are arrested, the police may search your person and the area within your immediate presence for the purpose of protecting the officer from attack, preventing you from escaping, or discovering the fruits of crime. § 901.21, Fla. Stat.