Series: How to Protect Yourself During a Police Investigation. Part 1: Avoiding Suspicion

 Jake Pillsbury
 September 25, 2023

If a law enforcement officer approaches you in Florida, it is important to know how to protect yourself. Officers are well-trained to identify movements, statements and other details which can incriminate the subjects of their investigation. Even the most innocent statement could incriminate you. Everyone should know what to do and say to stay protected while interacting with law enforcement. This series of articles is intended to help you avoid making a bad situation worse when talking to the police.

First Impressions Set the Stage: How to Avoid Creating Suspicion

Your first few seconds interacting with law enforcement will usually dictate the direction of the conversation. Being informed of your rights is important, but so is avoiding confrontation. You don’t have to bend to the officer’s every will, but keeping the interaction nonconfrontational is the first step in avoiding suspicion or arrest. 

Move with Purpose

Law Enforcement Officers are often intimidating, stress-inducing, or outright frightening. Your reaction to their approach is important. An approaching officer will watch your movements, particularly your hands, to scan for weapons or contraband. Simple, seemingly innocent actions can escalate the interaction. Some examples include:

  1. Dropping a cigarette can result in detention while the officer decides whether they think it could contain drugs.
  2. Putting something in your mouth can lead to accusations of evidence tampering.
  3. Moving your hands into your pockets, a handbag or your waistband can be catastrophic, as officers are trained to be alert to the possibility of potential hidden weapons.

Avoid unnecessary movements and keep your hands plainly visible to stay safe during an impromptu meeting with law enforcement.

Set the Stage

Before making any statements to police, ask if you are detained. If the officer says “no”, you don’t have to continue the interaction, provide your name, or even stay in the area. If the answer is “yes”, you’ll know that you’re the target of the investigation. Once they’ve answered, ask if you’re free to leave. Once they say you can’t, you are legally considered detained, which will be important to your lawyer later. Remember, this isn’t the best time to argue whether the detention is legal, your attorney can handle that if it becomes necessary.

Knowing whether you’re being detained should help you determine whether or not to speak to police. Whether detained or not, before you decide to speak you should first ask if the officer is recording the interaction. Advise them that you would like to record the interaction for your safety. Any interactions with law enforcement should be recorded by both parties to ensure the safety of everyone, and to avoid inconsistencies. If their answer is no, yours should be too when they ask you to speak.

Speak Sparingly

Try to remain calm and allow the officer to lead the conversation. It’s best to assume that any cop speaking to you is investigating a potential crime, but there is no reason to tell them that assumption.  Let the officer explain why they’re talking to you. Do not state why you think you’re being questioned. Do not give a fake name. If you are stopped while driving and asked if you know why, just say “no”. Avoid becoming combative or argumentative. The less you say, the safer you are. Even if you think the officer is wrong, at no point should you try to “lawyer” your way through the conversation.

Clearly state your intention to exercise your constitutional rights under the fourth, fifth, and sixth amendments of the Constitution. (We will discuss each of these rights at length later in this series). Do not consent to any search or investigation. If they ignore you, restate your lack of consent but do not argue or try to stop them. If an officer is uninformed about your rights, they are unlikely to listen to your well-reasoned explanation. It’s best to remain as calm as possible and avoid making any unnecessary statements. Your lawyer will be able to call their actions into question if it becomes necessary. You are not required to agree with the officer, or consent to their actions, but fighting with them is not the answer. Better to get arrested incorrectly without incident, then to argue your way into getting hurt or hogtied.

The Safest Choice: Staying Silent

The most important thing to remember is: YOU DO NOT HAVE TO SPEAK TO POLICE. Often it’s better to exercise your right to remain completely silent. Our next article in this series covers your Miranda Rights and how best to exercise them.

If you have questions or concerns about a recent police interaction you experienced, call us at 727-910-2565 to set up a free attorney consultation or request a call back here