Citizen's rights explained in Missoula
Posted: April 2, 2009 05:44 PM
Updated: April 2, 2009 06:20 PM
There are some questions about whether or not citizens have to answer questions when approached by a law enforcement officer on the street.
The Missoula County Sheriff's Department says an officer may have several reasons to approach a citizen on the street, depending on the situation. One may be what is called a Consensual Encounter where they need to find information about something or someone.
"Basically talking to somebody, and we really have no reason to stop them, other than we'd like to talk to them, and under those conditions they have no obligation to speak to us if they don't want to" explained Missoula County Sheriff's Department Lieutenant Brad Giffin.
Another scenario may be an investigative stop, ""Montana law specifically allows officers the opportunity to do what's called a stop and frisk. I have to be able to document why I suspected that this person might either have been involved in a crime or witnesses a crime or might even about to be involved in a crime" said Giffin. "Then I have the right to detain that person and ask them questions. Just because I have the reason to stop them, doesn't necessarily mean that I have authority to frisk them. I would have to articulate why I suspected that they were carrying weapons or something that could hurt me".
Another reason an officer may stop a citizen is to arrest them according to Giffin. "Then we have to advise them of their Miranda rights before we question them in relation to a crime and they can either invoke their rights and not speak to us and speak to their attorney or give us a statement".
"Any witness should communicate with an officer, if they don't, there can be what is called an obstruction of justice ticket that can be anything from a felony, depending on what the charge is, to misdemeanor, and the citizen has the obligation to cooperate with an officer as a witness" commented
Missoula attorney Paul Ryan. "Now, if you're a potential defendant or someone that could be charged with a crime then it's different. Then you certainly have the right to remain silent and as many people hear, you don't have to incriminate yourself and so it's a different situation. And that could be a fine line because sometimes somebody who's a potential witness could also be a potential defendant in a criminal case."
Summing it all up, Ryan says that unless an officer has a reasonable suspicion a citizen is a witness or a suspect, there's absolutely no obligation for this person to talk with an officer.