The legality of stops, searches and seizures is a potentially important issue in criminal defense cases. Given the recent national scrutiny on the work of police officers, it is important for every U.S. citizen to understand their rights when it comes to criminal investigations. Police are certainly not infallible, and educating oneself can help one to have a better sense of when an officer may be engaging in illegal behavior.
With respect to this issue, a recent article highlights an increasingly common occurrence: ordinary citizens documenting their frustrating encounters with police officers. In that case, the individual—who shot the footage on his cell phone—claims that an Austin police officer had no right to investigate him. The video footage begins as the officer is demanding that the man step out of his vehicle and ends with the officer forcing the man to put his hands behind his back.
The entire time the footage is rolling, the man protests that the officer has no reason to force him out of his vehicle. The context of the arrest is apparently that the man had parked his car to eat a hamburger while waiting for another party to come out of a nearby apartment. The officer’s stated reason for pulling the man out of his car is that he is parked in the early morning hours in an area of Austin known for drug crimes and prostitution. If this strikes you as a weak reason for detaining an individual, you’d be correct.
Whenever an officer stops an individual to investigate potential criminal activity, the officer is required to have probable cause or, at a minimum, reasonable articulable suspicion. In this case, there was no accusation of having broken any laws. Nor could the officer even articulate what offense he suspected the man of committing. All of this bears the marks of poor investigative work.
In our next post, we’ll continue looking at this case and speak a bit about the importance of working with an experienced criminal defense attorney when an illegal search leads to criminal charges.