Court Discusses Consensual Encounters with Police in Recent California Drug Possession Case

The Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution provide fundamental rights to all citizens. For example, police officers cannot perform a search without probable cause. Nor can they interrogate someone on the subjective belief that they look suspicious. For the most part, police officers must be able to point to specific facts that give them probable cause to believe someone committed a crime before they subject that person to investigatory procedures.

Of course, there are exceptions to that general rule. One common exception is when a defendant engages in a consensual encounter with the police. Courts have held that consensual encounters do not require a police officer to develop probable cause.  A recent California appellate decision illustrates this concept.

According to the court’s opinion, police officers were on patrol when they saw the defendant walk out of an apartment, look in their direction, and then turn around. The officers also saw the defendant put something into his pocket. The officers approached the defendant, asking him “Hey, how are you doing? What’s your name? Do you got anything illegal on you?” The defendant admitted to having a meth pipe on him. When asked if he had anything else illegal on him, the defendant admitted to having a “bunch of meth” on him. Police searched the defendant, finding methamphetamine, a pipe, and 162 dollars in small bills.

The police officers arrested the defendant and read him his Miranda warnings. The defendant indicated that he understood the warnings and wanted to speak with the officers without an attorney. In his statement, the defendant explained that he was planning on going to a party later that evening, where he was going to sell the methamphetamine to other party goers. The defendant was arrested.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress, arguing that the officers approached him and questioned him without probable cause or reasonable suspicion. At the motion, the defendant testified that the officers demanded to see his hands immediately, and grabbed at his wrists and jacket. However, the court determined that the officers’ version of the events was credible, and that the defendant’s version was not.

The court explained that, having credited the officers’ testimony, the stop began as a consensual encounter that did not violate the defendant’s Fourth Amendment rights. The court went on to explain that nothing the police did during the stop escalated the consensual stop to an investigatory detention. The court reasoned that police can ask incriminating questions without elevating a consensual encounter to an investigatory detention, and the fact that the encounter occurred in the evening hours did not “remove the power of free consent.”

Have You Been Arrested for a California Drug Crime?

If you have recently been arrested for a California drug crime, you may be able to suppress the evidence seized during your arrest through a motion to suppress. Attorney John W. Noonan is a dedicated California criminal defense attorney with over 55 years of experience representing the those accused of serious crimes. Attorney Noonan handles all types of cases, including California drug crimes, sexual offenses, and domestic battery matters. To learn more, call 877-463-3390 to schedule a free consultation today.

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