February 12, 2014 /24-7PressRelease/
-- In Johnston v. State, the Court of Criminal Appeals of Texas ruled, in an opinion issued on December 11, 2013, that the police subjected the defendant to an investigative detention, not merely a consensual encounter, thereby implicating his rights under the Fourth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.
Under Texas law, police-citizen encounters are categorized as: consensual encounters, investigative detentions, and arrests. While consensual encounters do not give rise to Fourth Amendment protections, investigative detentions and arrests are considered "seizures" under the Fourth Amendment. Police are authorized to make a warrantless detention of a person under the Fourth Amendment if the detention is justified by reasonable suspicion that the citizen is, has been, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity. An investigative detention occurs when a person yields to a police officer's show of authority under a reasonable belief that they are not free to leave.
The defendant's arrest in Johnston occurred after an identified complainant, a resident of an apartment complex in Houston, called 911 to report a suspicious person--an unidentified black male sitting on the steps watching cars near her apartment.
When the officer responding to the call arrived at the complex, he saw a vehicle with its lights on, backed into one of the parking spaces on the complex property. Although the vehicle was parked legally, the officer's attention was drawn to the vehicle because it was backed in, causing him to think it could be a get-away vehicle with a get-away driver inside. The officer shined his high-beam spotlight in the car and saw the defendant sitting in the parked car.
The officer then drove up and parked his cruiser at angle that partially blocked the defendant's ability to pull his car out of the apartment complex driveway. While continuing to shine the spotlight on the defendant's vehicle, the officer got out of the cruiser and spoke to the defendant, using a loud authoritative voice, asking him what he was doing and why he was there, and demanding proof of identification. When he approached the vehicle, the officer smelled an odor of marijuana. The officer asked the defendant to step out of the vehicle. He then looked in the car, and found marijuana sitting on the front console. The officer arrested the defendant and charged him with a misdemeanor offense for possession of marijuana
The defendant filed a motion to suppress, challenging the lawfulness of his seizure. The trial court denied the suppression motion. The court of appeals upheld the trial court's decision, stating that the evidence supported an implicit finding by the trial court that there was no detention, only a consensual encounter.
The Court of Criminal Appeals reversed, ruling that the defendant was unquestionably detained, perhaps when the officer shined the spot light on him in his car, but certainly when the officer blocked the defendant's car so that the defendant would have had to maneuver his car from its parking space if he wished to terminate the interaction with the officer. The court held that no reasonable person would have felt free to leave or to disregard the officer's approach, his show of authority, and his commands. The court sent the case back to the court of appeals for consideration of the trial court's determination that the officer had reasonable suspicion to detain the defendant and to determine whether the defendant's detention was valid.
Every interaction between the police and citizens may involve peril. If you believe that your rights have been violate, contact a lawyer experienced in criminal law.
Article provided by Law Office of Derek W. Emmons, P.C.
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