Many people ask if they have the right to walk away from a police officer. Unless the police officer formally stops the individual during a traffic stop or makes an arrest, the officer cannot stop the individual from merely walking away. When the officer prevents the individual from walking away, an arrest has taken place. However, this seizure may or may not be legal. Police officers must have probable cause to make an arrest in Minnesota and across the United States.

The Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution authorizes police officers to make an arrest based on probable cause. Probable cause works to prevent police from arresting individuals without justification. Evidence constituting probable cause may include observation derived from sight, sound, smell, etc.; police expertise, including knowledge of gang signs, tools used to execute certain crimes, gestures or movements; circumstantial evidence indirectly suggesting a crime; or information obtained from victims, witnesses and informants.

The officer must establish probable cause before making an arrest. A judge may determine later that the officer did not have probable cause, and the acquired evidence becomes inadmissible in the court of law. When probable cause is determined and the suspect is later acquitted, the probable cause remains in place and shields police from potential lawsuits. Having a criminal defense attorney to defend the accused person may be critical. The attorney may fight to protect the person from an invalid arrest by arguing that the cause for the arrest was invalid.

An arrest based on circumstantial evidence, like driving a vehicle similar to a car observed at the scene of a crime, might be challenged by a criminal defense attorney. An illegal arrest in Minnesota should be challenged. The arrested individual may request an experienced lawyer as early as possible.