“I do not wish to have an encounter with the police right now. Am I free to leave?” So advises Judge Janice Rogers Brown of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit about what to say to police on patrol in Washington, D.C., for illegal guns. Brown urges citizens to address officers “firmly, politely, respectfully,” but to exercise their right to end what are supposed to be voluntary encounters with law enforcement. The National Law Journal says Brown was on a three-judge panel that said members of the Metropolitan Police Department's Gun Recovery Unit were allowed to approach people on the street to ask if they were carrying contraband and if they would consent to a search.
Brown expressed her unhappiness about the practice. “Our jurisprudence perpetuates a fiction of voluntary consent where none exists,” she wrote. Confronted by police officers in tactical gear who might use a refusal or other reaction as justification to conduct a search anyway, Brown said, the person being questioned in fact had little choice about whether to comply. Police will “have a tough time ignoring it if somebody says that in the future,” said federal public defender A. J. Kramer, referring to the script Brown provided.