Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Federal Court Upholds Detention Citing Recent DUI Case

In United States v. Edwards the federal court for the ninth circuit has upheld a criminal case citing the recent DUI decision of Navarette.   In the opinion, the Justices ruled that a 911 caller provided officers reasonable suspicion to stop defendant; the stop did not become an arrest when officers drew guns on defendant and handcuffed him.

Here are the relevant facts.   Police received a 911 call from an unidentified man reporting that a "young black male" was shooting at passing cars, including the caller's. Officers responded to the area and stopped defendant and another man. Defendant was searched and a gun was found. After his motion to suppress was denied, he pled guilty to being a felon in possession of a gun. He appealed the conviction arguing that his fourth amendment rights were violated by the police and, although this was not a dui case, the court followed the reasoning of a US Supreme Court drunk driving decision in ruling against the defendant. 

The appeals court upheld the conviction.  Saying : "The totality of the circumstances determines whether and when an investigatory stop becomes an arrest." Two components of the detention are examined: (1) the intrusiveness of the stop (i.e., how aggressive were the officers; how much was defendant's liberty restricted), which is considered from the perspective of the person stopped; and (2) the justification for the officers' actions, which is determined from the officers' perspective. Here, the officers actions were intrusive—they drew their guns, forced the defendant to kneel, and handcuffed him. But this does not automatically convert an investigatory stop into an arrest that requires probable cause. The officers' conduct was reasonable because defendant was the only person in the vicinity of the shooter's reported location who fairly matched the 911 caller's description and the 911 caller provided specific facts regarding the shooter's clothing, height, and age. The officers had reason to believe defendant could be armed and dangerous, having possibly just committed a violent crime. Their concern for their safety justified the tactics they used to stabilize the situation before investigating further. 

According to Bakersfield DUI Attorney Bruce Blythe, this case is one of a stream of decisions that curtails the liberty we all enjoy on the roads of america.  The decision seems to follow the same reasoning in allowing law enforcement to stop citizens on nothing more than an anonymous tip that a crime is occurring and that is indeed troubling to many criminal lawyers who see a slippery slope if this case is followed says Blythe.

The landmark case on anonymous stops, California v. Navarette, decided earlier in the year continues to have deep and wide spreading impact on the way traffic stops are conducted.  Indeed, the Court held that brief investigatory stops are permissible when officers have a particularized and objective basis to suspect a person of criminal activity. When evaluating investigatory stops resulting from telephone tips it must be determined whether the tips "exhibited sufficient indicia of reliability to provide reasonable suspicion to make the investigatory stop." In Navarette v. California (2014) 134 S.Ct. 1683, the Court held an anonymous call provided reasonable suspicion for a stop of a suspected DUI driver because: (1) the caller claimed to be an eyewitness to dangerous activity; (2) the caller reported the event soon after it occurred; (3) the caller used the 911 system, which can be traced to origin, guarding against false reports; and (4) the caller created reasonable suspicion of an ongoing and dangerous crime—drunk driving. Similar to Navarette, here the caller used the 911 system, gave specific details regarding the shooter, had eyewitness knowledge of the shooting, and reported an ongoing emergency situation. This provided officers with reasonable suspicion to stop defendant. 

Although the case is not binding on California, its reasoning and logic can have persuasive power on judges in similar cases. Special thanks to CCAP for its analysis.