What are the rights on this? Can someone lawfully be approached?

Asked over 1 year ago - Reading, PA

Suppose it's about 11:30PM-midnight-ish. Someone (an adult BTW) is merely sitting out in THEIR yard on THEIR property of the home THEY own. A cop is driving by, he stops to "see if everything is ok" you tell him yes. He asks to identify yourself, which you do. Then after all this is collected the officer STILL stays and continues to question this home owner, he evn asks if its ok to pat them down "for their safety", this person wants to know why and what they've done, no complaints were called in, nothing was being done but this person sitting outside their home at night. What rights does the hoe owner have? When does this person have the right to walk away or ask the cop to leave? And did the officer have any right to go beyond the initial stop of "are you ok" and asking for ID?

Attorney answers (5)

  1. William A. Jones Jr.

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    Answered . From the facts set forth, this is what is termed a "mere encounter" between police officer and citizen. While it requires no particular justification for its initiation by the officer, it permissibly lasts only so long as the citizen permits its continuation. While your presence on your own property at the time makes the additional investigative steps more intrusive, the "mere encounter" scenario could occur anywhere. Providing a police officer with basic biographical information (name, address, and identification) is always a wise response to avoid escalation of an encounter, NO other information or cooperation is required and should be withheld unless you are CERTAIN that there is no risk involved in providing more. You are not required to consent to a search of your person, vehicle, or house; and your are not required to answer questions about ANYTHING if you so choose. In your specific situation it would have been perfectly appropriate for you to have politely declined any further interaction and ask that he/she leave. Since you do not reveal that anything of significance came of this encounter, I can't comment further. If criminal charges resulted from the incident, you should obtain the services of a qualified criminal defense attorney without delay.

  2. Forest Dean Morgan

    Contributor Level 17

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    Answered . You always have the right to walk away or ask the officer to leave unless/until you are subject to an investigative detention/arrest. However, this line is not clearly drawn and, in most cases, the ambiguity favors the law enforcement officer. In addition, unless this is a nightly occurrance or you are charged/arrested for something, there is really no remedy.

    As a general rule, if you are approached by law enforcement and you do not wish to continue the conversation, you should orally inform the officer clearly and unequivocally that you do not wish to engage in further conversation. You may even inquire if the officer is either investigating an incident. If not, then you may feel free to return inside of your home.

    During a consensual encounter, the officer may ask for your identification and pat you down for their safety.

    It is NEVER in your best interest to argue or physically resist the officer, nor would be wise to attempt to leave if the officer informs you that you are subject to an investigation or arrest. If you are arrested illegally, a good defense attorney can assist you.

  3. Robert H. Hanaford

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    Best Answer
    chosen by asker

    Answered . Agree with Forest Morgan that you are not obligated to talk to law enforcement other than identify self. Also, not sure why the officer entered upon your property. Fortunately sounds as though no arrest.

  4. James M Henderson Sr.

    Contributor Level 12

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    Answered . While I agree with the answers given (you are free to walk away; you may be required to identify yourself in certain circumstances), I think it is perfectly permissible to identify yourself as the homeowner, and then require the officer to remove himself from your premises.

    This answer is not a substitute for consulting with and retaining the services of an attorney for your legal needs.... more
  5. Bruce E. Burdick

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    Answered . Sounds like the copy is suspicious of someone sitting in the front yard at midnight, probably in an area of known drug activity or past break-ins. You should actually be pleased the cops are checking to see that someone sitting in your front yard at that time has permission and is not a "lookout" for some hoodlum doing something illegal inside. If you were armed, there would be even more cause for concern. You have a choice in these situations, tell the copy to get lost unless he has a warrant and make him mad and likely watch you more closely in the future or cooperate and demonstrate you have nothing to hide. Most people choose to cooperate and are pleased the cop is watching their property. If you are a woman and the cop is male, then the pat down request is totally out of line unless there is more to this [and there always is, it seems] and you should report him to his supervisor.

    I am not your lawyer and you are not my client. Free advice here is without recourse and any reliance thereupon is... more
    Bruce E. Burdick
    Bruce E. Burdick, Intellectual Property Law Attorney - Alton, IL
    Posted over 1 year ago.

    first line "copy" should be "cop".

    No photo
    Asker
    Posted over 1 year ago.

    Thank you for the reply :) I made this post on behalf of the person who went thru this. They were fine w/the stopping and asking if everything was ok, the part that made them feel violated was the pat down after identifcation was presented. (they are a male as was the officer) the questions continued and he just felt violated after it was all said and done so I made this post more or less just trying to see for future reference at what point the homeowner could've stopped the event and had the officer leave. Thank you for your reply :) it was very helpful. The homeowner works a late shift and was sitting in the yard, smoking a ciggarette, minding his own biz. No weapons or anything were found and nothing was cited or warned or anything... The only reason the cop seemed to stop was because he was outside at night it seems... We are thankful to have someone looking out, but the pat down seems not needed. Thanks again for your time and advice, next time he will know his rights :) enjoy the rest of your weekend!

    William A. Jones Jr.
    William A. Jones Jr., Criminal Defense Attorney - Wexford, PA
    Posted over 1 year ago.

    With this comment I mean absolutely no disrespect to Mr. Burdick, but I just could not let your response go with no comment. The officer's motivation in the incident described may well have been praiseworthy as suggested. The time and context may have given rise to a legitimate concern on the officer's part. Engaging the homeowner in a brief conversation to allay or confirm his suspicions would accordingly have been entirely appropriate. Conducting a pat-down was, with the facts presented, completely out of bounds. A Terry-type search is NOT justified upon the subjective concern for officer safety presented by these facts. Specific, articulable FACTS warranting reasonable suspicion that the subject is armed IS REQUIRED. Our guesses on this are likely different, but my guess is that the officer here had none. The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution protect ALL citizens from unreasonable searches. When the citizen does not understand their most basic and fundamental rights where the state seeks to intrude, the first line of defense of those rights fails. The concept of "demonstrat[ing] you have nothing to hide" by relinquishing your rights is a very dangerous course to pursue, and it is frankly the linchpin for unjustified police/citizen encounters. Police have lots of legitimate and effective ways to do their work of protecting us from criminal activity. Violating basic constitutional rights is not one of them. From a young age I made certain my children understood their rights with respect to law enforcement officers and the importance to society of law that they not only know their rights but know how to assert them in a calm and respectful manner. I encourage ALL citizens, the innocent and the guilty to do likewise.

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