Georgia recognizes three tiers of encounters between cops and civilian people. 1) Consensual Encounters; 2) Investigatory Stops; and 3) Arrests. As you step up the tiers the burden on the government increases to justify the encounter.
This blog will take a look at those three tiers of encounters and the law surrounding them.
Tier 1: Consensual Encounters with Law Enforcement Officers
A first-tier, consensual encounter, provides the pedestrian with no fourth amendment rights. The reason for this is that, in theory, the pedestrian is free to leave at any point.
So, a police officer may approach a pedestrian for the hell of it, ask the person questions, request identification without any belief that there is any criminal activity whatsoever. All of this holds true so long as at no point does the law enforcement officer detain the citizen or create the impression that the citizen may not leave.
Tier 2: Officer Stops Civilian When She has a Particularized and Objective Basis for Suspecting the Civilian is Engaged in Criminal Activity
This is the next step up and commonly referred to as a Terry stop. In tier 2 encounters officers can temporarily detain a person based on a particularized suspicion of criminal activity. Many folks are surprised to hear that they can be detained by officers when the cop doesn't even have probable cause.
If you find yourself in an encounter with officers and you want to remove yourself, then you should not hesitate to politely ask the officer if you are free to go or if you are being detained. If you are free to go (you usually aren't, but you should ask) then you should go on about your business.
Be careful if you find yourself in a tier 2 situation not to flee. Courts eagerly hold that flight from a tier 2 stop and other circumstances can be sufficient to uphold a warrantless arrest.
Tier 3: An Arrest Based on Probable Cause.
Sometimes the line between tier 1 and tier 2 can be blurry. The line between 2 and 3 can occasionally be blurry, but it is generally pretty clear if you are under arrest. Cops must have probable cause to arrest you.
If you arrested and you think officers lack probable cause, you should not fight, argue, or talk your way out of it. You should first invoke your right to remain silent and keep your damn mouth shut. Next, call your lawyer - if the arrest was illegal or without probable cause you need to let your lawyer fight it not you.