Last Friday night me and some friends were in the process of exiting a park (walking, not driving) in our neighborhood (in North Carolina). We were stopped and questioned by a cop. We (not quite knowingly voluntarily) surrendered our IDs. Immediately after handing them over, I asked if we were free to leave. The officer responded with "no, I got your IDs."

We did not realize that the encounter was a voluntary exchange until after we resolved the encounter because we were unsure whether we were trespassing or not and I was too nervous and scatter-brained to ask. We were unsure when the park closed. The incident occurred about half an hour before the park closed, but we were not sure when the park closed at the time and assumed the worst. The cop repeatedly told us that the park was closed, but I know that they can say anything they want in these scenarios.

Was the officer's reason valid to refuse my request to leave?

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    It seems to me that as soon as you ask to leave and the cop says "no," you have been detained. The state might argue that you gave the ID voluntarily, but even so, his retaining the ID after you ask to leave means that you are involuntarily detained. But whether the officer had a legitimate reason to detain you is a difficult question to answer. If, for example, a group of people fitting your description had been reported in connection with a crime, he would have cause to detain you for questioning.
    – phoog
    Apr 22, 2018 at 17:11
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    So I should have asked if we were being detained at that point?
    – 18yom
    Apr 22, 2018 at 17:12
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    You effectively did ask that by asking whether you were free to leave. If you're not free to leave, you have been detained.
    – phoog
    Apr 22, 2018 at 17:13
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    He may not have had cause to detain you beyond a mistaken belief that the park was closed. Or maybe he had no cause to detain you at all and was lying when he said the park was closed (as you indicate you are aware he could have done). It's impossible to say. If he had no cause to detain you, however, your options are nonetheless fairly limited. The main benefit to you would be if you had been charged with a crime you would be able to challenge the stop in court, where he'd have to justify it. To pursue a wrongful detention civilly is much more difficult.
    – phoog
    Apr 22, 2018 at 17:19
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    Now that you've had a less-than-enjoyable experience with law enforcement, consider to check your state laws regarding the right of police to stop you without cause. In some states, the police are required to articulate probable cause, while in others they are not. I found this of some value for NC: acluofnorthcarolina.org/en/know-your-rights/stopped-police
    – fred_dot_u
    Apr 22, 2018 at 18:57

1 Answer 1


The minute a person asks "am I free to go" and an officer says "No". that person is being detained. However, that does not indicate whether the detention is lawful or reasonable. Nor does the question give enough facts to determine this. Nor does an officer have to explain exactly why a person is being detained. An officer can detain a person with "reasonable suspicion" that criminal activity is afoot. There can be other valid reasons.

If no criminal charges resulted, and the person was released within a fairly short time, it would be hard to take any action against the officer, even if the detention were not properly justified.

A person could file a complaint with the police department. That might or might not be at all likely to have any result, depending on the exact circumstances and the particular department. No law requires a police department to act on such a complaint.

While in theory a section 1983 suit could be filed, if the only damage was detention for a short period, it would probably cost more to file than any likely recovery.

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