Our criminal defense law firm strives to provide people with practical advice in an easy to read format. This advice always focuses on issues which we believe are not only important but, very common to people living in an urban environment like Philadelphia. Majority of our firm’s practice is focused on the representation of those charged with illegal guns, drugs, and DUI/DWI in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. In most of these cases the issues of reasonable suspicion probable cause are extremely relevant to that representation at the pre-trial level. Remember that if your attorney does not assert your right against illegal search and seizure at the pre-trial level, you waive those rights for the purposes of trial.
One of the biggest issues that we see in our cases, especially in Philadelphia, is that of “unprovoked flight” or running from police. I can’t stress enough the importance of not running from police for 2 reasons.
1. It makes your case worse at trial
First, at the trial level, the act of running allows the assistant district attorney (prosecutor) to ask the court to consider “consciousness of guilt”. This basically means that a person ran because they knew that they had committed a crime. Consciousness of guilt is an extremely powerful issue for a judge to consider and it is also a jury instruction which could provide a jury another reason to find that the prosecution has met its burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt. Obviously, your criminal defense lawyer can make argument to explain away this alleged consciousness of guilt but he would rather not have to make the argument in the first place.
2. It’s provides police with reasonable suspicion at the pre-trial level
Second, running from police creates serious problems at the pre-trial level for your criminal defense attorney. You may recall from my previous blog articles that there are three types of police interactions: mere encounter, investigative detention, and custodial interrogation/arrest. Remember that a mere encounter doesn’t provide a person with any constitutional protections and unprovoked flight, especially in a high crime area, is considered a mere encounter in Pennsylvania. While the Pennsylvania Constitution usually provides more protection than the United States Constitution in the area of illegal search and seizure, that isn’t the case with unprovoked flight. Running provides police with reasonable suspicion for an investigative police stop. Again, your criminal defense lawyer can make argument to explain away this unprovoked flight was simply walking away or a reaction of fear in a case of an unmarked or undercover police officer. Pennsylvania’s Superior Court has found that an unprovoked flight in a high crime area doesn’t provide police with reasonable suspicion unless there is an indication the suspect knew he was running from police. This means that there is possibly a strong defense argument when a suspect runs from an unmarked police car or undercover police, especially if the officer doesn’t identify himself as a police officer.
Bonus: What you should do if police approach
Given how the law will treat the act of running, I recommend that you not do it if police approach you. Not running doesn’t mean giving consent for police to search you or your belongings, but rather being polite and respectful to the officer. If the officer wants to arrest you, try to stay calm and contact an attorney as soon as possible. If the officer does search and finds something on you or your belongings, don’t make any statements or respond in any way to the officer’s questions regarding who owns it. Remember, while you have constitutional rights against illegal search and seizure and the right to remain silent, there are a number of exceptions to these rights which may make your statements admissible in court. The best strategy is simply to remain silent, even if the officer is demanding your answer to his question. Remaining silent is an especially a good strategy in a DUI case where the officer asks if you’ve been drinking tonight or if you’re coming back from a bar.
For more information on your constitutional rights, I encourage you to visit my free download section and continue reading my monthly newsletter.