Monday, September 14, 2015

California Supreme Court Rules a Detention Occurs When Police Pull Behind Parked Car With Lights Flashing

In many DUI cases a person is parked when the police arrive and arrest the subject.  Here, the Supreme Court defines a detention to occur when the police pull in behind a car an turn on emergency lights.

Here are the facts in People vs. Brown, A deputy sheriff investigating an emergency call reporting a fight in progress pulled his car behind Brown's parked vehicle and activated his emergency lights. The officer found Brown to be intoxicated and he was charged with felony driving under the influence. Brown moved to suppress evidence of his intoxication as the fruit of an unlawful detention. The trial court denied the motion, concluding that Brown had not been detained until the deputy observed that he was intoxicated and, at that point, the deputy had a reasonable suspicion that Brown had been driving under the influence. The Court of Appeal affirmed. The California Supreme Court granted review. 

Held: Affirmed. An officer seizes a person when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen. In situations involving a show of authority, a person is seized if, in view of all of the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave, or otherwise terminate the encounter, and if the person actually submits to the show of authority. (Brendlin v. California (2007) 551 U.S. 249, 255.) Without adopting a bright-line rule, the court concluded that a reasonable person in Brown's position would not have felt free to leave, and Brown demonstrated submission to police authority by staying in his car. Under the totality of the circumstances, Brown was detained. 

However, the Court declined to dismiss the DUI because the detention was supported by reasonable suspicion and was justified because there was a reliable citizen's report of a violent fight potentially involving a firearm and the officer found Brown near the scene of the fight in an otherwise vacant alley only minutes later. (CCAP).  As a Torrance DUI Lawyer I have seen this scenario in many cases.  Usually the client is sleeping in the car when contacted.  This case can be used in those situations when the police gave no reason to detain, such as when the car is legally parked.