Officer’s Illegal Seizure Results in Suppression of Evidence

On October 7, 2009, two police officers pulled into a Walgreens parking lot and noticed a pickup truck that was poorly parked leaving the rear of the vehicle hanging approximately four feet into the thoroughfare of the parking lot. The officers stopped their cruiser, got out and walked around the vehicle.  Moments later, two men came out of the Walgreens and approached the truck. 

One officer stopped the driver of the truck and began to speak with him about how the vehicle was parked.  The second officer attempted to stop the passenger, but the passenger just walked past the officer and opened the door to the truck and began to climb inside the vehicle.  The officer came up behind the passenger, grabbed him by the shoulders, and pulled him out of the truck.  At that time, the officer observed a small bag which contained between one and four grams of heroin.  The passenger was arrested for possession of illegal substances.

Prior to trial, the passenger’s attorney argued the evidence (the bag of heroin) should be suppressed (thrown out) because the officer finding it occurred after an illegal seizure (grabbing the passenger).  The trial court disagreed and found the heroin to be admissible evidence.

The matter was appealed to the Second District Court of Appeals.  On appeal, the court found that the passenger was under no obligation to speak with the officer.  Further, the passenger had not committed any illegal act in front of the officer or done anything which could give the officer a reasonable suspicion that a crime was occurring or would occur.  Accordingly, the court found the officer violated the passenger’s Fourth Amendment rights by illegally seizing the passenger.  Because the seizure was illegal and the officer’s discovery of the drugs occurred because of the seizure, the court ruled the drugs could not be used as evidence against the passenger.

If you have been charged with a crime and you believe the charges are the result of an illegal search or seizure, it is important to seek the advice of legal counsel.  Fourth Amendment rights are a nuanced area of the law, and if your rights were violated, it could result in the State’s evidence being thrown out.

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