Top 10 Case Laws That All FTOs Should Know, Part 2

June 19, 2017

[Publisher’s Note: The materials on this website are provided for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. You should not act or rely on any information contained in this website without first seeking the advice of an attorney.]

Last time we delved into the first five of the ten cases we believe every FTO should know and be able to relate to their own investigations and contacts, and now here’s the second half.

Remember: The descriptions below will be brief. This shouldn’t be misconstrued to be a case law update or legal advice, but, rather, an urging that you do your own reading and research, in detail, to improve your knowledge on this list. Understand that we are not attorneys and that you should always seek out your agency’s legal advisor for specific direction or questions. Of course, based on your specific region Circuit Courts rulings might vary.

Pennsylvania v. Mimms

Traffic stops are something most officers do daily. More frequently we are being recorded by the occupants, as they try to assert their rights, whether existent or fiction. Can you force a driver to roll down their window? What about turn off their radio? Rather than trying to control everything within the car, how about just removing the driver from the car? Pennsylvania v. Mimms grants officers the ability to order the driver out of the car. If there’s more than one person in the car, Maryland v. Wilson allows us to remove them as well. These are good cases to keep fresh in your mind when you encounter an argumentative driver.

Tennessee v. Garner

In this famous 1985 decision, the SCOTUS affirmed that if an officer has probable cause to believe the suspect poses an imminent threat of serious bodily harm either to fellow officers or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force. The court required there to be probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others, and that that threat be imminent.

With the number of headlines about officer-involved shootings including the words “unarmed” I would make sure that I’m intimately familiar with not only this case, but my department policy when it comes to uses of force on fleeing subject. You should also be able to explain “imminent harm” to your trainee and have them explain it to you.

Remember: The court held that the officer’s actions in this case were not justified.

Chimel v. California

Chimel gives us our search incident to arrest, and describes what we refer to as a “lunge area.” Chimel was arrested in his home, and officers asked for consent to search his home. He denied. The officers searched anyway, considering it a search incident to arrest. When considering a search incident to arrest, the officers have to be able to explain why they believe the area to be searched is in the immediate area of the arrestee, and why they think it may contain a weapon that could harm them, or evidence that could be destroyed before being collected.

Various factors go in to this as well. Is the suspect handcuffed, in a patrol car, or already removed from the scene? How many officers are present? Are other subjects present and presenting a threat to the officer or the evidence? Don’t forget that when it comes to vehicle searches incident to arrest, Arizona v. Gant limited the scope even further.

Illinois v. Wardlow

In Terry, above, we discuss various conditions that lead to reasonable suspicion. Wardlow tells us that unprovoked flight or evasive behavior, as well as being in a high-crime area, are in fact relevant issues in determining reasonable suspicion for a Terry stop and frisk.

This case discussed common inferences on human behavior, which allows officers to use their experience and knowledge to make assumptions such as determining that eye contact followed by turning and running, is as we say “a clue.” Make sure that you and your trainee understand the additional factors in this case, such as the bag the suspect was holding, and the area in which he was first observed.

Justice John Paul Stevens, who both concurred and dissented, was clear to state that unprovoked flight alone, in his opinion, was not enough. Seeing an officer pull up in front of a convenience store and stepping inside, for instance, would surely not suffice for a Terry Frisk.

Florida v. Bostick

Bostick was on a charter bus that was soon to depart. Officers stepped aboard and confirmed his identity compared to his ticket. They asked to search his luggage, having no reason to suspect him of any crime. He consented and cocaine was located. Bostick then argued before the court that he didn’t feel free to leave or decline the request, and thus his rights were violated.

You really should read this case. Both the majority justices and the dissent make excellent arguments, and you can see how this case could change based on who is serving on SCOTUS at the time. The majority held that “simply because a police officer approaches an individual and asks a few questions” does not mean they are being “detained, as long as the police do not convey a message that compliance with their requests is required.”

One of the key points was the question of whether Bostick, being in the tight confines of a bus, could have felt free to leave or decline. The majority made an interesting argument. The bus was leaving soon, so Bostick didn’t feel free to leave his seat, by his own choosing. The officers didn’t keep him there. Rather, his decision to take the bus kept him there. The question was, really, would a reasonable person feel free to decline a warrantless search? The majority said yes, the dissent clearly said no.

Similar cases are going to come down to how the officers conduct and document the contact, ensuring that the perception is always that the person has the right to refuse. Of course, telling them that they can refuse is probably best practice.

In Sum

This is not an all-inclusive list. Your top ten might differ slightly, and these ten are not the only ones you need to know. We hope that as you read through this list you recognized some of the scenarios, but perhaps didn’t know the case it was associated with. We also hope that you’ll take the time to look up the cases and read them in detail. Make a briefing training out of it. Spark a discussion. Consult your legal adviser.

But most importantly: Understand the minute details that can sway the justices in either direction, and be ready to defend your actions, based on verbiage contained in case law, to bolster your cases.

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