California Landmark Cases on Police Detention

A police detention occurs "when an officer intentionally applies hands-on, physical restraint to a suspect or initiates a show of authority to which a reasonable innocent person would feel compelled to submit , and to which the suspect actually does submit for reasons that are solely related to the official show of authority." (People v. Cartwright (1999) 72 Cal.App.4th 1362, 1367, citing, inter alia, California v. Hodari D. (1991) 499 U.S. 621, Brower v. Inyo County (1989) 489 U.S. 593 & Florida v. Bostick (1991) 501 U.S. 429 (Bostick).) The test for the existence of a show of authority is an objective one, and thus, "neither the officer's uncommunicated state of mind nor the subjective belief of the individual citizen is relevant to the determination of whether a police contact is a detention . . . ." (In re Christopher B. (1990) 219 Cal.App.3d 455, 460.) The focus of the inquiry is whether, taking into account all of the circumstances surrounding the encounter, the police conduct would have communicated to a reasonable innocent person that he was free to disregard the police presence and go about his business. (Bostick, at p. 437; Cartwright, at p. 1364.) Since voter approval of Proposition 8 in June 1982, federal constitutional standards, as interpreted by the United States Supreme Court, have governed review of issues related to the suppression of evidence seized by the police in California. (People v. Camacho (2000) 23 Cal.4th 824, 830.) Lower federal court decisions in this area are not binding on California state courts. (Id. at p. 830, fn. 1.) If there is no conflict between state and federal law, state law governs. (In re Lance W. (1985) 37 Cal.3d 873, 886-888.) Federal Fourth Amendment jurisprudence recognizes three distinct categories of police interaction with individuals, each entailing different constitutional implications: "Police contacts with individuals may be placed into three broad categories ranging from the least to the most intrusive: consensual encounters that result in no restraint of liberty whatsoever; detentions, which are seizures of an individual that are strictly limited in duration, scope, and purpose; and formal arrests or comparable restraints on an individual's liberty. . . . Consensual encounters do not trigger Fourth Amendment scrutiny. Unlike detentions, they require no articulable suspicion that the person has committed or is about to commit a crime. " (In re Manuel G. (1997) 16 Cal.4th 805, 821.) Police officers may lawfully detain individuals briefly as long as the detention is reasonable and does not amount to an arrest. (People v. Coulombe (2000) 86 Cal.App.4th 52, 56.) Traditionally there have been different categories of police interactions with individuals, each of which evoked a separate analysis regarding the degree of restraint and extent to which a person was detained. (People v. Verin (1990) 220 Cal.App.3d 551, 557.) Unlike consensual encounters and arrest, lawful police detentions must be strictly limited in duration, scope and purpose. (Id. at p. 555.) A lawful detention must be reasonable, brief, and within the scope and purpose of lawful police duties. An officer may temporarily detain a person for the purpose of further investigation if the officer can identify specific and articulable facts warranting a reasonable suspicion the individual is involved in criminal activity. (United States v. Sokolow (1989) 490 U.S. 1, 7; Terry v. Ohio (1968) 392 U.S. 1, 30 (Terry); People v. Wells (2006) 38 Cal.4th 1078, 1083 (Wells).) We examine the "totality of the circumstances" in assessing whether a "particularized and objective basis" supports the detention. (United States v. Cortez (1981) 449 U.S. 411, 412, 417; see People v. Souza (1994) 9 Cal.4th 224, 230-231.) In so doing, we avoid a "divide and conquer approach" that considers factors in isolation and blanket rules that categorically assign no weight to certain kinds of observations. (United States v. Arvizu (2002) 534 U.S. 266, 273-278.) Consideration of the totality of the circumstance permits "officers to draw on their own experience and specialized training to make inferences from and deductions about the cumulative information available to them that 'might well elude an untrained person.' " (Id. at p. 273.) "The Fourth Amendment proscribes only 'unreasonable' searches and seizures, and that proscription applies to investigative stops of vehicles . . . ." " (People v. Glick (1988) 203 Cal.App.3d 796, 801.) A detention is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment when the detaining officer can point to specific articulable facts which, considered in light of the totality of the circumstances, provide an objective manifestation that the person detained may be involved in criminal activity. (People v. Souza (1994) 9 Cal.4th 224, 231.) "Any vehicle driven on the roadway must display valid license plates or a valid temporary permit. (Veh. Code, 4156, 5200, 5201, 5202.)" (People v. Hernandez (2008) 45 Cal.4th 295, 298.) When a police officer, driving behind a vehicle, sees it being driven without license plates and without a temporary operating permit in the vehicle's rear window, the officer is entitled to conduct a traffic stop of the vehicle to investigate whether it is being driven in violation of vehicular license requirements. The fact, if true, that the vehicle had a temporary operating permit on the front window is not controlling where the officer could not see that permit from behind the vehicle, and the officer is not obligated to drive around the vehicle to inspect its front windshield before stopping the vehicle. (In re Raymond C. (2008) 45 Cal.4th 303, 305-308 (Raymond C.).) Former Vehicle Code section 4156, provides, "Other provisions of this code notwithstanding, the department in its discretion may issue a temporary permit to operate a vehicle when a payment of fees has been accepted in an amount to be determined by, and paid to the department, by the owner or other person in lawful possession of such vehicle. The permit shall be subject to such terms and conditions and shall be valid for such period of time as the department shall deem appropriate under the circumstances." Vehicle Code section 5200, provides, in relevant part, "(a) When two license plates are issued by the department for use upon a vehicle, they shall be attached to the vehicle for which they were issued, one in the front and the other in the rear. (b) When only one license plate is issued for use upon a vehicle, it shall be attached to the rear thereof, . . ." Vehicle Code section 5201, provides, in relevant part, "License plates shall at all times be securely fastened to the vehicle for which they are issued so as to prevent the plates from swinging, shall be mounted in a position so as to be clearly visible, and shall be maintained in a condition so as to be clearly legible." Vehicle Code section 5202, provides, in relevant part, "Every license plate issued by this State or any other jurisdiction within or without the United States shall remain attached during the period of its validity to the vehicle for which it is issued while being operated within this State . . . or until such time as a vehicle with special or identification plates is no longer entitled to such plates and no person shall operate, nor shall an owner knowingly permit to be operated, upon any highway any vehicle unless the license plate is so attached. Special permits issued in lieu of plates shall be attached and displayed on the vehicle for which issued during the period of their validity." Although the police may approach an individual on the street and ask questions without triggering Fourth Amendment constitutional protections, the police may not detain the person without reasonable, objective grounds for doing so. (People v. Hughes (2002) 27 Cal.4th 287, 328; In re Manuel G. (1997) 16 Cal.4th 805, 821.) A detention occurs if the police conduct, which can include language and tone of voice, would have communicated to a reasonable person that the person was not free to decline the officer's request or otherwise terminate the encounter. (In re Manuel G., supra, at p. 821.) To justify a detention, the police must have a reasonable suspicion the person detained may be involved in criminal activity. (People v. Souza (1994) 9 Cal.4th 224, 230-231.) A reasonable suspicion requires a showing of specific and articulable facts that would cause a reasonable officer in a like position, drawing on the officer's training and experience, to believe criminal activity has occurred or is about to occur. (In re Tony C. (1978) 21 Cal.3d 888, 893.) Reasonable suspicion is something more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch, but something less than the fair probability required for probable cause. (People v. Bennett (1998) 17 Cal.4th 373, 387.) The "reasonable suspicion standard . . . is not a particularly demanding one, but is, instead, 'considerably less than proof of wrongdoing by a preponderance of the evidence.'" (People v. Letner and Tobin (2010) 50 Cal.4th 99, 146.) The courts consider the totality of the circumstances to determine whether there was a particularized and objective basis for the officer's suspicion. (People v. Souza, supra, 9 Cal.4th at p. 230.) Even if the circumstances are consistent with innocent as well as criminal activity, the police may properly detain an individual to resolve the ambiguity; i.e., "'to quickly determine whether they should allow the suspect to go about his business or hold him to answer charges.'" (In re Tony C., supra, 21 Cal.3d at p. 894; Letner, supra, at pp. 146-147.)