by Ryan Walsh and Scott Smith

You’re sitting in a park with friends. An officer comes up to you and asks you if you’ve been smoking weed. You say no, but they place you in handcuffs while they search the area. Is this legal? What are your rights? The 4th amendment’s protection against unreasonable seizures is the topic of today’s Peach State Lawyer video blog.

Hello, I’m Scott Smith.

The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution prevents the government from unreasonable seizures without a warrant. A seizure is a restriction on your freedom.

In order for you to be seized under the fourth amendment, the officer must have an arrest warrant, or have a legal reason to continue to detain you. Whether the officer has that reason depends on the interaction between you and the police officer.

Lets go back to the park example.

The officer comes up to you and He says hey, how you doing? He just asks if you’ve been smoking weed, but does nothing more. You’re free to respond to him or not. You’re free to walk away. This type of encounter is a tier 1 encounter. It can happen at any time.

But what if you’re sitting in the park and the officer says, hey, I smell marijuana over here. Are you guys smoking? Sit right here while we investigate. Is this seizure legal? The United States Supreme Court created this second tier of police-citizen encounters in the case of Terry vs. Ohio. It’s called a tier 2 encounter or Terry stop, and is lawful only if the officer has reasonable articulable suspicion that a crime has been committed.

You can’t leave in this situation, but the officer must also be in active investigation to find evidence of the specific criminal activity for which they’ve detained you.

Finally, you’re back in the park and the officer says, hey, I smell marijuana, are you guys smoking? Immediately, the officer places you in handcuffs while they look for evidence of weed. This is what’s called a tier 3 stop, which is the same as an arrest. An officer can’t arrest you without probable cause. Whether you’re under arrest depends on the officer’s statements and actions. Have they told you you are under arrest? Have they physically restricted your freedom? These factors and more are used to determine whether the encounter has escalated to this level.

Remember, in all situations the police officer’s job is to find evidence of criminal activity. Anything you say or do can be used against you later. Politely decline consent to search. Politely decline to answer any questions. Tell the officer you want to speak with your attorney.

The attorneys at the law offices of W. Scott Smith specialize in seizure issues. We’re available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for free consultations. If you feel you’ve been arrested unlawfully, call us today at 404-581-0999. Thank you.