Monday, May 24, 2010

A Consensual Police-Citizen Encounter - Does Such a Thing Exist?

Last week, in State v. Priddy, the 2nd District Court of Appeals (Fort Worth), explained:
The Texas Court of Criminal Appeals recognizes three categories of interactions between police officers and citizens: arrests, investigative detentions, and encounters.  Unlike an investigative detention or an arrest - each a seizure for Fourth Amendment purposes - an encounter is a consensual interaction, which the citizen may terminate at any time.
In Priddy, the defendant, who was sitting in her car eating a hamburger, was approached by an officer who, after placing the spotlight on her car and running her plates, knocked on her window and requested to see her driver's license.  The officer was interested in this car, in particular, because it was recently reported that the driver might be under the influence of alcohol.  Based on the facts, however, both the trial court and the appellate court agreed that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to initiate an investigative detention when he approached the car.

Once the woman rolled down her window, however, everything changed.  Through midst of grilled onions, ground beef, and mustard, the officer detected a hint of alcohol from inside the vehicle.  Now, according to the appellate court, the "encounter" created reasonable suspicion by which the officer could initiate an investigative detention.  Of course, the ensuing investigative detention substantiated the DWI.

Here's what the Court had to say about "encounters:"
So long as the citizen remains free to disregard the officer's questions and go about his or her business, the encounter is consensual and merits no further constutional analysis.
Are you telling me that this woman could have simply waived off when the office approached her vehicle?  She could have simply refused to answer questions - refused to cooperate - and everything would be fine!?  I seriously doubt it.  I submit that if she had refused to cooperate, the officer would have used that fact (and the court would have ratified the decision) as reasonable suspicion to further detain the woman to investigate.  In my view, there was absolutely no way she could have gotten around talking to the officer.  None.

She was able to convince the trial court that the search was unreasonable, but the 2nd Court reversed.  Best of luck to Mrs. Priddy at trial.