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  • Writer's pictureBrad Thornton

San Antonio Criminal Lawyer: When Can the Police Detain You?

As a San Antonio criminal defense attorney, one of the questions I get asked frequently is, "When can I be detained by the police?" It's a common question, and for good reason. Understanding when and why law enforcement can detain you is crucial to protecting your rights and avoiding legal trouble. In this blog post, we'll explore the different types of police detentions and what you need to know about each one.


Consensual Encounters:


San Antonio Criminal Lawyer - Police Stop

Consensual encounters are a type of interaction between an individual and a law enforcement officer where the individual is not detained or arrested. During a consensual encounter, the officer approaches the individual, initiates a conversation, and asks questions, but the individual is free to refuse to answer the questions or to walk away at any time.


In a consensual encounter, an individual's rights are protected by the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. The officer need not have any reason at all for approaching the individual. The officer has the same rights as any other person would to approach someone and ask a question, knock on a door, and stop behind a stalled car to see if the driver needs assistance. The individual has the right to refuse to speak with the officer and to walk away at any time. The officer cannot use force to detain the individual or search them without their consent, probable cause, or a search warrant.


However, a consensual encounter can turn into a detention if the officer has reasonable suspicion that the individual has committed or is about to commit a crime. During the consensual encounter, the officer can develop reasonable suspicion, which would allow detaining the individual temporarily to ask questions and investigate further. At this point, the individual is no longer free to leave and the encounter becomes a detention.


Community Caretaking:


Community caretaking is a doctrine that allows law enforcement officers to engage in activities that are unrelated to the investigation of criminal activity but are necessary for ensuring the safety and well-being of the community. This doctrine recognizes that police officers have a responsibility to protect and serve the community in a broader sense beyond just enforcing the law.


Under the community caretaking doctrine, police officers may engage in activities such as providing assistance to individuals who are in distress, conducting welfare checks on individuals who may be in danger, or removing hazards from public spaces. For example, if an officer sees a person who appears to be lost or disoriented, the officer may approach the person to offer assistance and may even briefly detain them to ensure their safety.


The community caretaking doctrine has been applied to a range of situations, including cases involving missing persons, suicidal individuals, and elderly or vulnerable individuals who may be at risk of harm. In some cases, officers may need to enter private property, such as a home or vehicle, to provide assistance or to ensure the safety of the community. Much like consensual encounters, community caretaking detentions can turn into an investigatory detention when the officer develops reasonable suspicion.


Investigatory Detentions:


San Antonio Criminal Lawyer - Police Frisk

An investigative stop, also known as a detention, occurs when a law enforcement officer briefly detains an individual to investigate suspicious behavior or activity. This type of stop is permitted under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures, if the officer has reasonable suspicion that the individual has committed or is about to commit a crime.


Reasonable suspicion is a legal standard that is lower than probable cause but requires specific and articulable facts that would lead a reasonable person to suspect that the individual has committed or is about to commit a crime. The officer must be able to articulate these facts and show that they are related to the individual's behavior or activity that is being investigated. Examples of reasonable suspicion include matching a suspect's description or behavior to a crime that has just occurred in the area.


During an investigative stop, an individual is not free to leave and is required to comply with the officer's commands. The officer may ask questions, ask for identification, and conduct a pat-down search if they have reason to believe that the individual is armed and dangerous. However, the officer cannot conduct a full search of the individual or their belongings without a warrant or consent.


If the officer discovers evidence of criminal activity during the stop, they may then have probable cause to make an arrest. However, if no evidence is found, the individual must be released.


Border Stops and Sobriety Checkpoints


Border stops and sobriety checkpoints are two types of law enforcement stops that are permitted under certain circumstances.


San Antonio Criminal Lawyer - Police Checkpoint

Border stops, also known as immigration checkpoints, are law enforcement stops that occur at or near the United States border. These stops are intended to prevent illegal immigration, drug smuggling, and other criminal activity. Border stops are different from other types of law enforcement stops because they are not based on individualized suspicion; instead, they are considered "administrative searches" that are permissible under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.


During a border stop, law enforcement officers may question individuals about their citizenship, ask for identification, and search vehicles for contraband. However, the search must be conducted in a reasonable manner, and officers cannot conduct a full search without a warrant or consent unless they have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband.


Sobriety checkpoints, also known as DWI checkpoints, are law enforcement stops that are intended to prevent drunk driving. These stops typically occur on public roads or highways and involve a temporary roadblock where law enforcement officers stop drivers to assess their sobriety. Sobriety checkpoints are permitted under the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution if they are conducted in a reasonable manner.


During a sobriety checkpoint, law enforcement officers may ask drivers to perform a field sobriety test or take a breathalyzer test to assess their sobriety. However, officers cannot search a vehicle or conduct a full search of the driver without a warrant or consent unless they have probable cause to believe that the driver is impaired.


It's important to note that while border stops and sobriety checkpoints are permitted under certain circumstances, law enforcement officers must conduct these stops in a manner that is reasonable and respectful of individuals' rights. Individuals have the right to challenge the legality of a stop if they believe their rights have been violated.


San Antonio Criminal Lawyer



Being detained by the police can be a stressful and confusing experience. Understanding your rights and the circumstances under which law enforcement officers can detain you is crucial in protecting your freedoms and liberties. If you or a loved one has been detained or arrested, it's important to seek legal counsel from a qualified criminal defense attorney.


San Antonio Criminal Lawyer Brad Thornton

As a Board-Certified Criminal Defense Attorney in San Antonio, Texas, I have the knowledge and experience to help you navigate the legal system and protect your rights. Whether you have been subject to a consensual encounter, an investigative stop, a community caretaking action, a border stop, or a sobriety checkpoint, I can provide you with the legal representation you need.


Don't hesitate to contact my firm, Thornton Criminal Defense PLLC, for a free consultation. I am dedicated to fighting for my clients and providing them with the best possible outcome. Call me today at 210-439-5627 to schedule your free consultation and take the first step in defending your rights.

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CRIMINAL LAW BLOG

FORMER CHIEF PROSECUTOR

PERSONALIZED ATTENTION TO YOUR CASE

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BOARD CERTIFIED IN CRIMINAL LAW 

OVER A DECADE OF EXPERIENCE IN CRIMINAL LAW

WHY HIRE THORNTON CRIMINAL DEFENSE?

Attorney Brad Thornton is a highly experienced and Board-Certified criminal defense lawyer. With his background as a former Chief Prosecutor, he has a unique understanding of the criminal justice system and is able to provide comprehensive and effective representation to his clients. He is also deeply committed to ensuring that all individuals receive fair treatment in court, regardless of their background or circumstances.

Brad Thornton is dedicated to helping his clients achieve the best possible outcome for their case, whether it is in San Antonio or elsewhere in South Texas. He recognizes the stress and anxiety that can come with being accused of a crime, and approaches his clients with compassion while keeping them informed at every step of the process. His knowledge and experience make him a strong advocate for his clients.

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© 2023 by Thornton Criminal Defense, PLLC. 

Atascosa County Criminal Defense Attorney

San Antonio Office:

111 Soledad, Suite 401

San Antonio, Texas 78205

Tel: 210-439-5627

Atascosa Office:

216 N Bryant St

Pleasanton, Texas 78064

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