Police Investigaton

In many cases, someone reports a suspicion of a crime and police respond to investigate.  Quite often, there is a call to emergency services — a 911 call — typically recorded.

Sometimes, law enforcement officers directly observe something they suspect may be a crime or violation of law.

Initial Contact

Police officers may initiate what courts call a “Fourth Amendment Seizure” or simply a “stop” for short.  (It does not matter whether the citizen is already stopped.)  The key ingredients here are:

  1.  The police officer as an agent of the government asserts governmental authority delegated to it by law; and
  2.  the person detained is not free to leave — their Liberty has been intruded upon by the government.

A Fourth Amendment Seizure is illegal unless the police officer can cite Reasonable Articulable Suspicion of criminal activity, or an observed violation of law (e.g. a traffic law).  These may be video recorded.  If a stop is illegal, the court will suppress any evidence obtained as a result of it; not allow the prosecutor to use it.

The most important evidence obtained by law enforcement officers after a stop, or in other types of contacts, is what courts call statements.  Other terms that mean about the same thing include: confessions, admissions.  When a person is charged with a crime, out of court statements which would otherwise be inadmissible hearsay, may be used in evidence against the accused as “Admissions,” under an exception to the rule against hearsay.  This is an important topic that will be discussed elsewhere in greater depth.  For now, keep in mind that a person does not have to talk to police at all and if a person does talk to police, for example during a traffic stop, they can stop talking to police at any point they choose.  This is a fundamental, constitutional right.

eagle Weisskopf_Seeadler-smThe other category of most important evidence obtained by police after a seizure is evidence from a search.  The scope and depth of the search legally allowed under the limited delegation of authority given the government in the Minnesota and United States Constitutions will depend upon the circumstances.  For example during what we sometimes term a Terry stop, police may only be allowed to do a pat-down search for weapons.  During a traffic stop, a search based on a claim of probable cause may be limited by the nature of facts known by police claimed to give rise to probable cause to search.  During the execution of a Search Warrant, on a home for example, the scope of the search is limited by what is authorized in the judge’s warrant.  Under the Constitution, police may not lawfully search unless they have a Search Warrant or an exception to the Constitution’s Warrant Requirement.  One of the most important exceptions is “Consent.”  People should avoid giving consent to any search.  It’s a good idea to make unambiguous and clear that “Officer, I do not consent to any searches.”

Right to Counsel

Your right to counsel is yours to assert at any time.  You do not need to wait until arrested.  You don’t need to wait until you hear a Miranda Warning (but if you do, take the hint and remain silent until after consulting a lawyer).  The most important triggers to assert your right to counsel are police requests for information or for consent to search.

Keep in mind that a statement to police can always be made later in time, after consulting your lawyer.  Similarly, if consenting to a search were ever a good idea, it can wait until after you consult your lawyer.  If you feel pressured, that is your reminder to  say “no thank you Officer, I am not going to consent to any searches or say anything until after I consult my lawyer.  I want to assert my 5th and 6th Amendment Rights.”  Repeat as necessary.

Arrest

Sometimes police may assert legal authority under the laws to detain a person beyond a brief investigatory stop (a prolonged detention); or to arrest.  Whether an arrest is legal or not depends upon the facts as well as Constitutional and statutory law.  If an arrest is illegal, evidence collected as a result my be suppressed by a judge.

Jail

An arrested person may be taken to jail and booked in.  “Booking” is an informal term referring to the arresting officer or a jailer (often a Deputy Sheriff) collecting identification information from the arrestee, including fingerprints and photographs.  A more thorough search is normally conducted upon intake into the jail.  The word “jail” means a place of short-term detention, normally pre-trial detention.

The next page about stages in the criminal court process is pre-charge lawyer retainer.