Monday, May 14, 2012

Initial encounter found not consensual

US v. F. Jones:  In this appeal, the Fourth Circuit considered the denial of a motion to suppress evidence seized as a result of a traffic stop in a "high crime neighborhood" and reversed, reasoning that the initial encounter was not consensual and infringed the appellant’s Fourth Amendment rights.

The Fourth Circuit distinguished this case from other police-citizen encounters, as the citizen here knew that police officers were conspicuously following him, rather than a case where a citizen was unaware of any police presence, and is approached by officers seemingly at random. This case lacked a "traditional hallmark of a police-citizen consensual encounter: the seemingly routine approach of the police officer." This was involved a targeted vehicle, and the police blocked the vehicle’s only exit from the scene of the encounter with a police cruiser, without having observed any traffic violations. Jones, an African American, was simply driving a vehicle with New York tags in Richmond, with three other African American men in the car with him, observed by a police officer who "thought that that vehicle did not belong there and that the people in the vehicle didn’t belong there."

The Fourth Circuit believed that the totality of the circumstances in this case would suggest to a reasonable person in Jones’ position, that the officers suspected him of illegal activity in a "high crime area," that he was a target, and that he was not free to leave or walk away. The panel concluded that the officers detained Jones before having any legal justification to do so.

Way to go, FPD in Richmond!

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