Rights When Interacting with Atlanta Law Enforcement

When interacting with law enforcement officers in the Atlanta area it is important that individuals are aware of what rights they possess and refrain from saying or doing anything that could end up incriminating themselves. With this in mind, the following is information on a variety of interactions commonly made with police officers and the legal rights that you possess.

If you believe your rights may have been violated or have been charged and would like to discuss your case in more detail, call and schedule a consultation with an Atlanta criminal lawyer today.

When Police are at the Door

The police have every right to come to knock on an individual’s door and ask for the chance to talk to the individual, this is commonly called a knock-and-talk. The individual also has the right to politely refuse and close the door. Without a warrant, exigent circumstances, or a few other legal conditions, the police do not have the right to come into an individual’s home without the individual’s permission.

A person’s first right is the right to not talk to the police. If they say that they are going to come in any way, ask to see their warrant. If they do not have a warrant, then they do not have any right to come in.

Home searches are most often done either when the police have responded to a crime in progress within the home or have a search warrant issued by a magistrate.  The third most common type would be a consent search. A consent search occurs when the police do a knock-and-talk and request to search the home and the owner consents to a search of their home.

Best Option: Welcome In or Polite Refusal?

If law enforcement officers come to a person’s house to investigate them for a possible crime, or if the individual thinks law enforcement is there to discuss a possible crime, individuals should very politely tell them that they do not wish to talk with them at that time.

It is important not to curse at or antagonize police officers in any way; they are there to do their job, and there is no sense making them mad. If they persist, though, an individual may wish to ask what the police wish to speak about. If they are there to tell the individual something else, such as a family member has passed away, then the individual will most likely want to have that conversation with them. However, if the law enforcement won’t tell someone why they are there or if they say they are there to question the person about a crime, then it is best to politely refuse.

Often, speaking to the police will do more harm than good in implicating a person. It is instead better to remain silent.

When Stopped on the Street

The question of whether a person must stop and talk to the police on the street depends on how and why the person is stopped. For example, if an individual is driving their car on the street and the police pull them over, then presumably they are doing their job correctly and are pulling a person over to investigate them for a traffic offense. In this case, an individual must stay and let them do their job, such as issue a ticket.

If the police are to pass a person on the street and, seemingly at random, want to talk to an individual, the person is not required to stop. Unless the police have a reasonable belief that an individual has been involved in a crime, they have a warrant, or they see the person commit a crime, then they have no power to detain and talk to the individual.

Determining if in Police Custody

The question of whether a person is in custody is a very, very important one. Miranda rights are not attached to a person until they have been arrested. Sometimes it is easy to know if the person has been arrested because the police will explicitly state they are placing a person under arrest. However, there are times when the police do not ever specifically state a person is under arrest, but the facts and circumstances around the encounter are such that it is tantamount to an arrest.

For example, if the police pull someone over, handcuff them, and make them sit on the side of the road while they search the person’s car then there is a credible argument to make in front of a judge that that momentary detention for investigatory purposes has ripened into an arrest. If it has ripened into an arrest, then the Miranda rights are attached to an individual.

Sometimes a decision must be made in the moment, and there are instances where cooperation might be more appropriate. For example, if a neighbor’s car has been stolen and the police want to ask if you have seen anything, and you want to help your neighbor and didn’t have anything to do with his car being stolen, then you may want to help your neighbor by answering a few reasonable questions about anything you may have seen on the street at the time of the theft.

If there is any indication the police are investigating the person in question for a possible crime, give serious consideration to stopping and talking to a lawyer. Police are not perfect and sometimes make the wrong arrest decisions. Any statements given to the police can be used against an individual. If in doubt, keep your mouth shut and don’t talk to the police.

Vehicle Search

A person does not have to consent to a law enforcement official’s request to search their vehicle. If law enforcement has a legal reason to search an individual’s car without consent, it will be done regardless. It is almost never in a person’s best interest to consent to the search of their vehicle. Vehicle searches in Georgia involve approximately six reasons that an officer can legally search a vehicle including:

  • Owner consents to a search
  • Officer sees something in plain view.
  • Lawful arrest due to a search of areas in the driver’s reasonable reach (e.g.: weapons, contraband, or evidence of a crime).
  • Inventory search once the vehicle has been impounded.
  • A search warrant.
  • A search with exigent circumstances.

An example of exigent circumstances might be if law enforcement heard someone crying in the trunk of the car and do not know of any crime, do not have the owner’s consent, and do not have a search warrant, but can look in the trunk to see why there is someone crying in the car to ensure something illegal is not taking place such as a kidnapping.

Personal Search

A personal search is the search of a person’s body, which includes the clothes and body cavities—the mouth being among them. The police may search for weapons or contraband. The most common type of personal search is the “Terry frisk” or “Terry pat.” This is when an officer has a valid reason to interact with a person and pats them down. A pat down feels the pockets from the outside to see if the person has any weapons. It is a weapon search for the officer’s safety. If the person has been arrested, then the officers are allowed to do a more invasive search, such as putting their hands in the person’s pockets, searching inside the shoes and socks, and even a body cavity search under certain circumstances.

The Right to Refuse

A person never has to give consent to search their body, their car, or their home. They have the right to say no.

Sometimes police officers will be forthcoming and tell a person that they have the right to refuse a search, however, they rarely do. If an individual asks the police if they have the right to refuse and they do not say that the person has the right to refuse, then a person is no longer freely and voluntarily giving consent.