Lyons Snyder & Collin. Trial Attorneys.


Police-Citizen Encounters

By Philip M. Snyder

As a criminal defense attorney in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, I am routinely asked the question, “Can the police stop an individual simply because they look “suspicious”?”   The answer is “yes” and “no”, depending on an individual’s definition of “stop.”

The Florida Supreme Court has explained that there are three levels of police-citizen encounters.   The first level is typically referred to as consensual encounter and involves only minimal police contact.   During a consensual encounter, an individual may either voluntarily comply with a police officer’s requests or choose to ignore them.   Popple v. State, 626 So.2d 185 (Fla. 1993).  For example, a police officer is permitted to walk up to a random individual outside a nightclub to inquire if anyone in the club is selling cocaine.   The individual is under no obligation to answer the police officer’s question and can simply walk away, legally and without recourse.

The second level of police-citizen encounters is typically referred to an “investigative stop” or “Terry stop”.  Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968).   Terry stands for the principle that a police officer may temporarily detain an individual if a police officer has a reasonable suspicion that the individual has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime.  The police officer’s suspicion must be a well-founded, articulable suspicion, however; mere suspicion will not suffice.   Criminal defense lawyers routinely file Motions to Suppress claiming that law enforcement did not have reasonable suspicion to temporarily detain their client.  For example, a police officer may initiate a “Terry stop” after observing an individual wearing a ski mask and gloves walking in a residential neighborhood at night during the Summer.  At a Motion to Suppress, the Court would make a determination on whether the police officer had an objectively reasonable suspicion to temporarily the individual based on his/her observations.

Finally, the third level of police-citizen encounter is an arrest.   The police officer must support his/her arrest by probable cause that an individual has committed or is about to commit a crime.   For example, relying on the previous example, assuming the individual wearing the ski mask and gloves indicated that he just left a costume party down the street and his girlfriend is waiting in the car dressed as Tinkerbell.   After investing the individual’s story (and checking to see if anyone in the neighborhood reported a break-in), the police may likely not have the requisite probable cause to effectuate an arrest. 

Notwithstanding the prescribed levels of police-citizen encounters, police officer’s routinely stop and/or arrest individuals on nothing more than a hunch or unsubstantiated information.  As such, if you or a family member has been arrested in a case where a police officer stopped and/or detained you without reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause it is important to immediately contact an experienced criminal defense attorney familiar with police-citizen encounters.

 Criminal defense lawyer Philip M. Snyder is a founding partner of Lyons, Snyder & Collin, P.A. in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.    Fort Lauderdale criminal defense attorney Philip M. Snyder handles all criminal defense matters including, drug cases, trafficking cases, domestic violence, and assault and battery.   The Fort Lauderdale criminal defense law firm of Lyons, Snyder & Collin, P.A. is located at 312 Southeast 17th Street, Third Floor, Fort Lauderdale, Florida 33316.  Telephone: 954.462.8035.  http://www.lyonssnyder.c