If you find yourself in an encounter with the police and are unsure of what your position is (whether you are being investigated, will be arrested, etc.) – then a surefire way to 100% ascertain what your status may be is simply asking the simple question, “OFFICER, AM I FREE TO LEAVE?”
If they reply that you are free to leave, then do just that. You may have to wait for the officer to finish the citation, but yes, you are free to go. If the police officer indicates that you are not free to leave, then you must use some other key phrases,
- “I DO NOT CONSENT TO ANY SEARCHES,”
- “I INVOKE TO REMAIN SILENT,”
- “I INVOKE MY RIGHT TO AN ATTORNEY.”
You must use all of the magic words and use them in this order. In the movie, Horrible Bosses, one of the main characters uses this phrase with true legal aplomb. Please see video HERE.
During any police encounter, they no doubt will never apprise you of your rights or help you understand them. In fact, they are trained to harass, scare, and trick you into giving up your rights. You have to be strong in the face of adversity. Police officers are even permitted to lie! Thus, do not believe anything they say. Instead, keep repeating the magic phrases, be polite, and keep your mouth shut!
The question, “Am I free to leave,” clarifies if you are being detained or not. If you are being detained, the police cannot ask you questions without reading you your rights (just like on the TV shows). If they do not read you your statutory and constitutional rights, your attorney can use this against them in court. Once they have read you your rights, invoke your right to remain silent and to have an attorney present.
So, when in doubt, just simply ask the simple question, “Officer, am I free to leave right now?” And regardless of the answer, you will know how best to proceed.