The North Carolina Court of Appeals in State v. Eagle, 2022-NCCOA-680, ___ N.C. App. ___, 879 S.E.2d 377 (2022), considered whether the driver of a car that had already stopped when a patrol officer pulled in behind it with blue lights activated was seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. The trial court had ruled that the driver was not immediately seized by the officer in this encounter. Instead, the court ruled that a seizure occurred only when the officer took Ms. Eagle’s driver’s license and returned to her patrol car. By this point, the officer had developed reasonable suspicion to believe Ms. Eagle was impaired. The Court of Appeals reversed, determining that Eagle was seized at the outset of this encounter. This post discusses State v. Eagle and its relationship to other recent seizure jurisprudence. Continue reading
Tag Archives: hodari d.
State v. Eagle: Blue Lights and Impeded Egress Equal a Fourth Amendment Seizure
A Fourth Amendment seizure does not occur when an officer turns on her patrol vehicle’s lights and siren to signal for a vehicle to stop. Instead, it occurs when a driver submits to that show of authority by stopping the car. Thus, if an officer lacks reasonable suspicion when she activates the siren, but gathers information sufficient to constitute reasonable suspicion by the time the vehicle stops, the traffic stop does not run afoul of the Fourth Amendment.
But what if the car is already stopped when the officer turns on the blue lights and siren? Have the occupants of the car then been seized for purposes of the Fourth Amendment? Not necessarily, as the court of appeals recently explained in State v. Turnage, __ N.C. App. ___ (May 15, 2018).
When Does a Seizure Occur When an Officer’s Vehicle Displays Emergency Lights That Directs a Vehicle to Stop?
Jeff Welty wrote a post in 2010 on when a seizure occurs after an officer operates emergency lights to order a driver to stop his or her vehicle. This post updates his post by summarizing the relatively recent North Carolina Court of Appeals case of State v. Mangum, ___ N.C. App. ___, 795 S.E.2d 106 (Dec. 6, 2016), review denied, ___ N.C. ___, 2017 WL 1086917 (March 16, 2017), which ruled on this issue and provides a useful summary of the case law in North Carolina and other jurisdictions. Continue reading →
Normally, a law enforcement officer will attempt to develop reasonable suspicion before instructing a person to stop. But what if the officer does not have reasonable suspicion at that point, yet develops reasonable suspicion prior to the suspect’s compliance with the officer’s instruction? For example, suppose that an officer sees a vehicle weaving within its lane of travel. Standing alone, this does not provide reasonable suspicion that the driver is impaired, and it will not support a stop. State v. Fields, 195 N.C. App. 740 (2009). Assume that the officer, not having read Fields, nonetheless activates his blue lights. The driver then changes lanes without signaling before pulling over. It turns out that the driver is impaired, and prior to his DWI trial, he moves to suppress, arguing that the stop was not supported by reasonable suspicion and citing Fields. Can the stop be justified based on the driver’s failure to signal while changing lanes in violation of G.S. 20-154(a), even though the violation took place after the officer attempted to initiate the stop?
Probably so. In California v. Hodari D., 499 U.S. 621 (1991), the United States Supreme Court held that an officer’s show of authority is not a seizure until the subject complies. Because the propriety of a seizure depends on the facts known at the time of the seizure, it appears that events after an officer’s show of authority, but before a suspect’s submission to it, may be used to justify the seizure. At least that’s the conclusion that the Second Circuit reached in United States v. Swindle, 407 F.3d 562 (2d Cir. 2005) (reluctantly concluding that a court may “consider events that occur after [a driver is] ordered to pull over” but before he complies in determining the constitutionality of a seizure). Other courts have reached similar results. See, e.g., United States v. Smith, 217 F.3d 746 (9th Cir. 2000) (relying on Hodari D. to reject the argument that “only the factors present up to the point when [the officer] turned on the lights of his patrol car can be considered in analyzing the validity of the stop”); United States v. McCauley, 548 F.3d 440 (6th Cir. 2008) (“We determine whether reasonable suspicion existed at the point of seizure – not . . . at the point of attempted seizure.”); United States v. Johnson, 212 F.3d 1212 (D.C. Cir. 2000) (similar). Cf. generally 4 Wayne R. LaFave, Search and Seizure § 9.4(d) n. 170 (collecting cases).
If the analysis above is correct, some interesting questions arise. For example, does a motorist submit to an officer’s show of authority as soon as he begins to slow down, only when he has come to a complete stop, or somewhere in between? In the right case, the answer could make all the difference, but I’ll leave that topic for another day.