In our recent blog posts, we’ve started delving into the maddeningly nuanced law of seizures by law enforcement officers. Crucially, the Fourth Amendment requires a police seizure to be “reasonable.” If it isn’t, then any evidence that is obtained from the seizure will be excluded from trial under the exclusionary rule.
What constitutes a “seizure,” however, is not always clear, as there is an entire spectrum of police detentions, from an officer simply looking at you, to an officer clapping handcuffs on you and saying, “you’re under arrest.”
In our last post, we dipped our toe into these murky waters by discussing an obvious example of a Fourth Amendment seizure: When police use deadly force on a suspect. Here, we inch towards the gray area with another definite seizure under the Fourth Amendment: Apprehending a suspect and bringing them into the police station for questioning.
Repeatedly, the Supreme Court of the United States has decided that there is a seizure – thereby triggering the protections of the Fourth Amendment – whenever a police officer brings a suspect into the police station without their consent.
The first of these cases came from 1979, Dunaway v. New York. Dunaway started with the robbery of a pizza joint in which the owner of the store was killed. Police, acting on a tip, found the suspect, Dunaway, in his neighbor’s house. Without telling Dunaway that he was under arrest, they brought him into the police station in a police car and put him in an interrogation room. During the trial, police officers claimed that, if Dunaway had tried to leave, he would’ve been physically restrained. Once in the interrogation room, Dunaway confessed to the attempted robbery and the felony murder, providing evidence that was used against him at trial.
When the case got to the Supreme Court, six of the Justices there decided that “there can be little doubt that [Dunaway] was ‘seized’ in the Fourth Amendment sense when he was taken involuntarily to the police station.” Important to them was the fact that Dunaway did not go to the station voluntarily, despite the flimsy claim by the prosecutor that, because no physical force was actually used on him, Dunaway was acting of his own free will. With the seizure being established, it triggered Dunaway’s Fourth Amendment rights.
Importantly, determining that a seizure has happened is only the first step in the process of defending your Fourth Amendment rights. After all, the Fourth Amendment doesn’t prohibit all searches or seizures: Only those that are deemed “unreasonable.” In Dunaway, the Supreme Court ended up deciding that it was unreasonable. We’ll recap why, and cover other nuances of this crucial second step in the inquiry, in future blog posts.
Utilizing the protections of the Fourth Amendment is one of the best ways to protect your liberty in the United States because they prevent police from forcing their way into your life without a legitimate reason. Call the law office of Maine criminal defense attorney William T. Bly at (207) 571-8146 or contact him online for the vigorous defense you need at this crucial time in your life.
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