Being stopped by police can be an unsettling experience. As a California resident, it is important to understand the legal standard of “reasonable suspicion” and your rights during a police stop.
This will help ensure the stop does not violate your Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.
What is “reasonable suspicion”?
For police to legally stop and briefly detain you in California, they must have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity involvement. This means they need specific and articulable facts that would lead a reasonable officer to suspect criminal activity. It requires more than a mere hunch, but less than probable cause for arrest.
Examples could include matching the description of a suspect, seemingly casing a property, acting evasively or carrying objects used in criminal activity. The officer must have objective, factual reasons for the stop.
What are your rights during a stop?
During a stop, you have the right to remain silent. You do not have to answer any questions beyond identifying yourself. However, you may not lie about your identity. Police may do a limited “pat down” of your outer clothing if they reasonably consider you armed and dangerous. They cannot do a more intrusive search without probable cause and refusing a search does not provide grounds for arrest. If the police do not arrest you, you have the right to leave once the stop has ended. Police cannot unreasonably prolong a stop.
Knowing the rules for police stops will help you protect your rights. Consider these facts as you determine if your stop meets the reasonable suspicion standards.