• Detention and Seizure
  • July 5, 2013 | Author: G. Ross Trindle
  • Law Firm: Best Best & Krieger LLP - Los Angeles Office
  • Overview: A California appellate court recently ruled that the voluntary relinquishment of one’s identification card, upon request by a law enforcement officer, did not constitute a detention or seizure under the circumstances of this case. Minutes after a robbery, officers spotted a male suspect and SUV matching the victims’ description. Upon request, the suspect gave police his identification card and was later convicted of second degree robbery. The court found no illegal detention or seizure when the defendant voluntarily engaged in conversation with officers and handed them his license.

    Training Points: This ruling validates the request by officers for identification as a preliminary part of an investigation, similar to a knock and talk. The officers merely requested identification without accusing the defendant of illegal activity or using physical force and the defendant consented. Often, presentation of identification can lead officers to additional information that can support a subsequent detention and arrest. Officers should keep in mind that if a subject refuses to produce identification, or asks for the return of identification previously given, the consensual encounter may transform into a detention, requiring sufficient cause.

    Summary Analysis: In People v. Leath, Brandon Leath and another suspect robbed three people at gunpoint before driving away in a dark SUV. Nearby, officers saw Leath walking away from a dark SUV. An officer asked to see identification. Leath gave police his license and was arrested on outstanding warrants. Officers later found several items of stolen property near the car. Leath argued that this illegally-seized evidence should have been suppressed. The court disagreed, finding that Leath voluntarily relinquished his license before being detained. The court found that these circumstances made the situation a consensual encounter, not a detention or seizure.

    The court also upheld the conviction on alternative grounds, that reasonable suspicion existed to support a detention based upon the totality of the circumstances, even if officers had detained Leath by keeping his identification card. Thus, the court determined that his detention was lawful and the motion to suppress was denied properly.