When has a Seizure of a Suspect or Defendant Occurred?
A seizure occurs when a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would not feel free to terminate the encounter.
Recently I reviewed a case where the cop told a suspect that if he moved, he would be shot. He was not handcuffed or arrested at that point. Was this a seizure? YES The term “seizure” is an important concept in criminal defense. A person can be “seized” before he is actually restrained by physical force at the moment when, given all the circumstances, a reasonable person would believe he is not free to leave. Michigan v. Chesternut, 486 U.S. 567, 573 (1988). As the Supreme Court reaffirmed in Florida v. Bostick,, the test for determining whether a Terry stop has taken place “is whether a reasonable person would feel free to decline the officers’ requests or otherwise terminate the encounter.” 501 U.S. at 436.
Under Florida law the question of a seizure turns on “whether, taking into account all of the circumstances surrounding the encounter, the police conduct would ‘have communicated to a reasonable person that he was not at liberty to ignore the police presence and go about his business.’” Bostick at 437. The court stressed in Chesternut that there is a need for a seizure test which “calls for consistent application from one police encounter to the next” and permits police “to determine in advance whether the conduct contemplated will implicate the Fourth Amendment.” Chesternut at 574.
“Law enforcement officers do not violate the Fourth Amendment by merely approaching an individual on the street or in another public place, by asking him if he is willing to answer some questions, by putting questions to him if the person is willing to listen, or by offering in evidence in a criminal prosecution his voluntary answers to such questions.” Florida v. Royer, 460 U.S. 491, 497; 523, n. 3 (REHNQUIST, J., dissenting).
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