What are my Legal Rights During a Criminal Investigation?

Legal Rights and Police Investigation

Law enforcement officers may stop an individual for questioning whenever they have reasonable grounds to suspect a violation of the law. Some of the most common reasons for which an individual may be stopped by the police include suspicion of involvement in a criminal act or violating a traffic rule. Once a person has been stopped by the police, some typical questioning is likely to follow.

If you have questions about your legal rights in Fort Lauderdale and need to speak to a attorney, contact the Broward County Criminal Defense Lawyers at William Moore Criminal Defense.

Questioning without Arrest: "Terry Stop"

The law enforcement officers have the authority to stop an individual without necessarily having to arrest him or her, as long as they have reasonable grounds for such action. The police are even free to ask questions without effecting an arrest. When a policeman sees what he may perceive as suspicious activity, he may carry out a "Terry Stop". This involves temporary detention of an individual or a group to request them to identify themselves and then ask questions about the suspicious behavior or activity.

Terry Stop’s scope is restricted to investigation of a particular suspicious behavior or activity. If the person is detained for questioning about additional issues, the Terry Stop may turn into an arrest. During a Terry Stop, the police also have the right to carry out a “weapons frisk” on a person’s external clothing. If anything resembling a weapon is found during the frisking, the police may remove it from the individual for further evaluation. However, the police may not remove articles other than weapons, even if it appears to be contraband.

When does an arrest occur?

A lot of people mistakenly assume that an arrest will occur only when a law enforcement officer makes a formal pronouncement to the suspect that he or she is under arrest. It is also presumed that such pronouncement will be followed by the suspect being read his or her Miranda rights under the law. However, the truth is a bit more complicated. In a legal sense, an arrest will take place when a suspect does not reasonably expect any longer that he or she is free to leave. Even in case of a “Terry Stop” a person cannot leave during questioning, but it is not an arrest because the detention is limited in scope and duration.

In other words, an arrest will be said to have taken place when a suspect is not permitted to leave the scene for a significant period of time, and even when a pronouncement formally declaring the arrest is not made. If a suspect is physically restrained from leaving, locked in a police vehicle, or handcuffed, it would usually be considered an arrest.

Allowing Search of the Premises or Vehicle

Many people are unaware that in most cases they have a right to refuse a law enforcement officer’s permission to perform a search of their belongings, premises, or vehicle. Unless the police officer possesses the legal authority to conduct such a search, a person can normally say “No” to the officer’s request for a search. However, if the person gives consent for a search, it becomes legal authority for the police officer to perform the search.