The more invasive the police officer’s intrusion into your personal space, the greater the level of justification he needs for the intrusion into your space. There are three different levels of police intrusion. The level of intrusion changes the justification that the police officer is required to have for it to be a legal intrusion in your private space.
The lowest level of police intrusion can be described as a “mere encounter,” A “mere encounter” is any situation where there is an interaction with a police officer in which a “reasonable person” would feel free to leave, or where police engage in conduct that does NOT amount to searching; for example, if the police simply walk up to you as you as you walk down the street or if the police come upon you sitting in your automobile on the side of the road. In this type of “mere encounter” situation, there is not any requirement that the police officer have legal cause to investigate. If their mere encounter of you leads them to suspect that you are involved in criminal activity they may further investigate and possibly move to the second level of intrusion.
The second level of police officer intrusion is an “investigative detention.” Here, a police officer only needs to have a “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity before he is allowed to briefly stop, detain, and question you or anyone suspected of criminal conduct. Automobile stops require the police to possess the same level of suspicion as if you are on foot. However, the police are also allowed to stop your car if they suspect that you have violated any section of the Pennsylvania Vehicle Code. This means that the police may stop your car if they suspect that you were involved in criminal activity OR if the officer possesses a reasonable suspicion that you have violated some provision of the vehicle code. It is a violation of your Fourth Amendment Rights for a police officer to pull your car over without a reasonable articulable suspicion that either you were involved in criminal activity or that you violated a provision of the vehicle code or both.
Sometimes a police officer will pull your car over and “create” a reason for pulling you over that did not actually occur. For example, a police officer could claim that you were gunning your motor, hanging something from your rear view mirror, crossing the fog line or the double yellow line, driving with your high beams, etc. When police officers pull over cars for vehicle code violations that did not actually happen and then discover evidence which leads to an arrest for D.U.I. or some other crime, you have a right to have a Judge determine if the police officers violated your rights when they pulled your car over in the first place.
If you feel that your rights were violated by the police then you should contact Chester County attorney John P. Winicov. He will provide you with aggressive representation and handle your case with the care it deserves.