Criminal Law Blog

Alley-way questioning and pat-down request give rise to Fourth Amendment seizure...

Alley-way questioning and pat-down request give rise to Fourth Amendment seizure in light of officers’ targeted approach and persistent questioning, the limits on appellant’s movement, and the fact that the encounter occurred in a high crime area with “high visibility” patrols.

Nowhere to run by Douglas M. Paine, licensed under Creative Commons

Dozier v. U.S., 15-CF-1098

  • Holding 1: Appellant was seized for Fourth Amendment purposes by the time he complied with an officer’s request to put his hands on the wall so that police could frisk him for weapons, where armed, uniformed police parked in front of the alley appellant was walking out of, got out, walked up to appellant, and asked if they could speak to him (twice), if he had any weapons, and after appellant exposed his waistband to prove he did not, if they could pat him down. “Even assuming [this] interaction . . . began in a consensual manner, . . . there was a Fourth Amendment seizure by the time appellant submitted to the officers’ request to a pat-down” because “an innocent person in appellant’s situation would not have felt free to decline that request.” Slip Op. at 12. Factors relevant to the court’s determination include: the natural apprehensiveness any person would feel when approached by multiple officers in a secluded alley late at night, id. at 15; the officers’ persistence which signaled that appellant could not terminate the encounter until police finished their investigation, id. at 15-16, 23-24; and the restraint on appellant’s movement caused by the officers parking at the secluded alley’s entrance and walking toward appellant from that direction, id. at 23. 
  • Of Note: In addition, the Court considered that “the encounter took place in a ‘high crime area’”--one subject to “frequent[] and visibl[e]” patrols--“and involved an African-American man.” Id. at 16, 17. The court deemed these factors relevant because even an innocent man in such a neighborhood might reasonably perceive that he is the target of a criminal investigation when approached by police; id. at 16-17, 19; because “persons of color” were “more likely to be subjected to this type of police surveillance” and therefore “particularly justified” in fearing it; id. at 19; and because “[i]n the isolated setting where the encounter took place, appellant . . . reasonably could have feared that unless he complied with the police requests, he would be vulnerable to police violence, without hope that anyone would come to his aid or witness what happened,” id. at 22.
  • Holding 2: Because there was no reasonable articulable suspicion to seize by the time appellant submitted to being patted down, testimony that appellant took flight during the pat-down and subsequently threw an object containing a controlled substance should have been suppressed as the fruits of the illegal seizure. Id. at 27-28.

Read the full opinion here.


A copy of this post has been added to the Fourth Amendment section of the (Early) Year In Review (Part 1).