While most people understand their basic rights (i.e. the right to remain silent), there is a lot of uncertainty that surrounds the grey areas of police encounters. As a Fort Worth criminal defense lawyer, one of the questions I am most commonly asked by clients is "Can the police stop and hold me without placing me under arrest?" Unfortunately, the answer to this question isn't always clear. Really, it depends on the situation.
When You Would Be Required to Cooperate
Generally speaking, the police have the right to question you if they have a reasonable suspicion that you have committed a crime—which may include asking you to identify yourself. Similarly, an officer may be able to conduct a limited pat down if they have reason to believe that you are armed or dangerous. This is done for their own safety. Beyond this, however, you are not required to answer any questions.
It is your constitutional right not to answer any of the officer's questions—especially if they are aimed at obtaining incriminating evidence against you. Even if you haven't been placed under arrest, you should avoid speaking to the police, as doing so could land you in handcuffs. There is no need to act out in a hostile or aggressive manner during this encounter; simply state that you would like to exercise your right to remain silent.
Do I have to give a police officer my name?
Under state law, you are not required to tell a police officer your name unless you have been placed under arrest. Some states have "stop and identify" laws, but Texas is not one of them. You are only required to identify yourself if you have been arrested, in which case you must comply. Similarly, you cannot provide a fake name, address or date of birth under any circumstance—as this could land you in serious trouble.
If you do not wish to identify yourself, that is your right; however, you should also understand that this may not bode well for you. During a police encounter, the officer has the power to decide what happens next, even if it turns out later that they were wrong. To keep the situation from escalating, you may be better off providing your name when asked—after which you can still exercise your right to remain silent.
Can I leave if I'm not being detained?
This is where things can get a little tricky. Obviously, things could go very wrong if you flee from the police—even if you haven't done anything wrong. You are, at the very least, required to stop when a police officer approaches you in a public area (i.e. on the street or on the road). If they have reason to believe that you have committed a crime, they may start to question you about where you have been or what you have been doing.
You are NOT required to answer. If you have cooperated with the police to a reasonable extent, you can ask the officer if you are free to go. At this point, they must either decide to place you under arrest or tell you that you are free to leave. If they do not do either, however, it may not be in your best interest to just leave. This could end up causing more trouble for you, as the officer may see this as an attempt to evade arrest.
What You Should Do After Being Arrested
Regardless of what transpired in the time leading up to your arrest, it is critical that you speak to a Fort Worth criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. I have been defending criminally accused clients throughout the area for more than a decade, so I know the importance of timely intervention. The sooner I am involved, the better it could be for your case, so don't wait to contact my firm for a free consultation.
Don't put your future at risk. Contact the Law Office of A. Oliver Hassibi!