General Law

Encounters with the Police in Houston

What are your rights when a police officer stops you on the street? Can they stop you to ask questions? When can an officer arrest you?

There are three basic types of interactions between officers and citizens: the encounter, the investigatory detention, and the arrest.

An encounter occurs when a police officer approaches a citizen in public and asks questions but has little reason to believe that a crime has occurred. During an encounter, you do not have to answer the questions nor do you have to identify yourself to the officer. You are free to walk away.

If the officer has “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity, the officer can detain you and investigate. To meet the standard of reasonable suspicion, the officer must be able to articulate facts of criminal activity. Reasonable suspicion is a low burden for a police officer to meet.

During an investigatory detention, an officer can require a citizen to disclose his name and show a form of identification.

Furthermore, during an investigatory detention, if the officer believes his safety is at risk, he may briefly pat down the citizen for weapons.

To arrest a citizen, an officer needs probable cause that the citizen has committed or is committing a criminal offense.

Probable cause means that given all the circumstances, a crime probably occurred. Probable cause is also a low burden for the officers to meet.

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