If Police Prevent Your Car From Legally Moving, They Have Seized You
In United States v. Jones, 678 F.3d 293; 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 9513, Defendant Frederick Jones was convicted of one count of possession of a firearm by an unlawful user of controlled substances, in violation of 18 U.S.C.S. § 922(g)(3), and the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia sentenced him to 41 months’ imprisonment and a 3-year term of supervised release. Defendant appealed the denial of his suppression motion.
In Jones, two police officers in a marked patrol cruiser closely followed a car from a public road onto private property, and then blocked the car’s exit. The officers observed no traffic violation. The only assertedly suspicious activity they saw was the car’s presence in a high-crime neighborhood with out-of-state tags. These facts alone led the officers to suspect that the car’s occupants, four African American men, were involved in drug trafficking. Immediately after the driver, Frederick Jones, exited his car, the officers approached him and asked that he lift his shirt, which he did. The officers then asked him to consent to a pat down search, which he did. After neither the shirt lift nor the search revealed anything, the officers discovered that Jones had committed a traffic violation, and so detained him. Subsequently, they found he possessed a firearm and a small quantity of marijuana.
Defendant moved to suppress the evidence, alleging that the officers illegally seized him when an officer asked him to lift his shirt and then submit to a pat down search – an encounter that the Government contended was consensual. The appellate court agreed with Defendant, holding that although the officers did not draw their holstered weapons or use a threatening tone, the existing circumstances – including the fact that Defendant’s car was blocked from leaving – would suggest to a reasonable person that the officers were not treating the encounter as routine in nature, but rather that the officers were targeting him because he was engaged in illegal activity. The court noted, “Any one of these facts on its own might very well be insufficient to transform a consensual encounter into a detention or seizure, but all of these facts viewed together crystallize into a Fourth Amendment violation”. Id. at 305.
The judgment of the district court was reversed and the case was remanded for further proceedings.
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