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officer encounters - criminal defense


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This is not about the horrific officer encounters we have been seeing blanketing the television lately. This is more on the day to day traffic stops, requests for information, etc.

Sadly, the US Supreme Court recently ruled, in Utah v Strieff, that a police officer could stop a citizen to ascertain whether or not, they have a warrant for their arrest. Previously, a police officer had to have knowledge of the warrant.



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Based on this and other rulings, one may ask, in a lawyer’s opinion, how they should handle police encounters. I offer the following:
  1. Always have your identification documents, within reach. If you are in a car, know where the registration and proof of insurance is at all time. Attempt to have those documents available before the police officer makes contact with you. If the documents are in the glove box or console and the police officer is at the vehicle, inform he or she in an audible tone that you will be reaching for the documents.
  2. Be cordial to the police officer. If you are initially angry, or have asked tersely while you were stopped, apologize. Cordial demeanor can go a far war. Just today, I got several traffic misdemeanors dismissed because my client was polite to the police.
  3. Answer questions only in reference to the encounter. Volunteering information will only lead to further investigation.
  4. Avoid furtive gestures. While a police encounter may be nerve racking or anxious, gestures (fidgeting fumbling, etc) will invite a search of you or your vehicle.
  5. Please note that it is lawful for the police to order you out of a vehicle and pat you down for officer safety. It is also lawful for them to pat you down during an investigatory stop as described above. Be aware that the plain feel doctrine is established law Minnesota v Dickerson and People v Champion (MI Sup Ct). That means if a cop, by palpating a conceal item knows what it is, he can remove it from your pocket.
  6. Obey all lawful orders of the officer. Example keep your hands out in the open. Get down on the ground. Give me your documents. DEMANDING CONSENT TO SEARCH IS NOT A LAWFUL ORDER. Demanding an answer to a question that might incriminate you (do you have any drugs on you) is not a lawful order.
  7. While it is legal to resist an unlawful arrest, failure to obey the lawful order of a police officer can result in a felony charge of resisting and obstruction of a police officer.
Michael L. Steinberg is a 26 year veteran criminal defense lawyer. He answers his phone directly. You call no secretary. He is here to provide excellent defense in all criminal cases 24/7/365.


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