Seizure | When has a Suspect or Defendant been Seized?

A seizure occurs when a reasonable person in the defendant’s position would not feel free to terminate the encounter.

Detention Arrest Seizure Florida

When has a Seizure of a Suspect or Defendant Occurred?

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).

Cell Phone and GPS Location Data in Criminal Prosecutions

18 U.S.C. § 2516, GPS, warrantless GPS surveillance, Electronic Communications Privacy Act, privacy, Cell Phone Location Data
Cell Phone and GPS Location Data
Board Certified Criminal Trial Lawyer at Law Office of W.F. ”Casey” Ebsary, Jr. notes recent developments in Cell Phone Location Data used in Criminal Prosecutions. When the government wants to track an individual’s location through his or her cell phone, it submits an application to a judge seeking an order compelling a company to provide access to location data. Cell phones generate several types of data that can be used to track their users’ past or present locations with various degrees of precision.

Cell Phones and Privacy Invasion

GPS Tracking Requires Search Warrant

GPS Trackers, Fourth Amendment, GPS, Search Warrant, Tracker

GPS, Search Warrant, Tracker

GPS Tracking Needs Warrant

“police violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition of unreasonable searches by

tracking his movements 24 hours a day for four weeks with a

GPS device they had installed on his Jeep without a valid warrant”

GPS Trackers and the Fourth Amendment

Tampa Drug Charge Defense Lawyer, Attorney W.F. “Casey” Ebsary, Jr. reviewed an interesting appeals court decision where police put a GPS Tracking Device on a car and followed him for weeks. The defendant was arrested for Federal cocaine charges. Specifically, “conspiracy to distribute and to possess with intent to distribute five or more kilograms of cocaine and 50 or more grams of cocaine base.”  The court summarized the case as involving “Evidence Obtained from GPS Device.”

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On a side note, California, has made it illegal for anyone except law enforcement to use a GPS to determine the location or movement of a person. In some jurisdictions, GPS tracking of a person’s location without that person’s knowledge is a violation of an individual’s reasonable expectation of privacy.” Some law enforcement agencies use “darts” a miniaturized GPS receiver, radio transmitter, and battery embedded in a sticky compound material. Cops shoot the darts at a vehicle and it sticks to the target tracking begins.


The Court further held “the whole of a person‘s movements over the course of a month is not actually exposed to the public because the likelihood a stranger would observe all those movements is not just remote, it is essentially nil. It is one thing for a passerby to observe or even to follow someone during a single journey as he goes to the market or returns home from work. It is another thing entirely for that stranger to pick up the scent again the next day and the day after that, week in and week out, dogging his prey until he has identified all the places, people, amusements, and chores that make up that person‘s hitherto private routine.”

The appeal centered on defense arguments that “his conviction should be overturned because the police violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition of unreasonable searches by tracking his movements 24 hours a day for four weeks with a GPS device they had installed on his Jeep without a valid warrant. We consider first whether that use of the device was a search and then, having concluded it was, consider whether it was reasonable and whether any error was harmless.” The court ruled that tracking with GPS was a search. A Search Warrant was required.

The Government used the GPS data to show a pattern of travels by the defendant. The Court mentioned , “This case itself illustrates how the sequence of a person‘s movements may reveal more than the individual movements of which it is composed. Having tracked Jones‘s movements for a month, the Government used the resulting pattern — not just the location of a particular ― stash house or Jones‘s movements on any one trip or even day — as evidence of Jones‘s involvement in the cocaine trafficking business. The pattern the Government would document with the GPS data was central to its presentation of the case . . . .” The court further noted, “The GPS data were essential to the Government‘s case. By combining them with Jones‘s cell-phone records the Government was able to paint a picture of Jones‘s movements that made credible the allegation that he was involved in drug trafficking.”
The Court also stated, “A reasonable person does not expect anyone to monitor and retain a record of every time he drives his car, including his origin, route, destination, and each place he stops and how long he stays there; rather, he expects each of those movements to remain ― ‘disconnected and anonymous’.” In closing the Court held, “Society recognizes Jones‘s expectation of privacy in his movements over the course of a month as reasonable, and the use of the GPS device to monitor those movements defeated that reasonable expectation.” The court concluded its forty-one  page opinion stating the cocaine trafficking defendant’s, “conviction is reversed because it was obtained with evidence procured in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

The complete opinion is a free download here. 

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