An Alabama pastor, who was helping a neighbor by watering her roses, was confronted by police after another (Karen) neighbor reported a suspicious person. After police arrived, they demanded ID from the pastor, as well as full submission to their authority. The pastor stood up for his rights and refused to be harassed. So, they arrested him for obstruction, of course, i.e., contempt of cop. Was he required to provide ID? What is reasonable suspicion?
First, was it a “consensual encounter,” or was it a seizure under the Fourth Amendment?
As a general matter, police officers are free to approach and question individuals without necessarily effecting a seizure. Rather, a person is seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment “[o]nly when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen.” Id. (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 n.16 (1968)). Such a seizure can be said to occur when, after considering the totality of the circumstances, the Court concludes that “a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.” Id. (quoting United States v. Gray, 883 F.2d 320, 322 (4th Cir. 1989)). Similarly, when police approach a person at a location that they do not necessarily wish to leave, the appropriate question is whether that person would feel free to “terminate the encounter.” See Florida v. Bostick, 501 U.S. 429, 436 (1991). “[T]he free-to-leave standard is an objective test, not a subjective one.” United States v. Analla, 975 F.2d 119, 124 (4th Cir. 1992).5… (United States v. Nestor (N.D. W.Va. 2018)).
If a seizure occurred, i.e., investigatory detention, there must have been reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion is a “commonsense, nontechnical” standard that relies on the judgment of experienced law enforcement officers, “not legal technicians.” See Ornelas v. United States, 517 U.S. 690, 695, 116 S.Ct. 1657, 134 L.Ed.2d 911 (1996) (internal quotation marks omitted). To support a finding of reasonable suspicion, we require the detaining officer “to either articulate why a particular behavior is suspicious or logically demonstrate, given the surrounding circumstances, that the behavior is likely to be indicative of some more sinister activity than may appear at first glance.” See United States v. Foster, 634 F.3d 243, 248 (4th Cir.2011). (United States v. Williams, 808 F.3d 238 (4th Cir. 2015)).
– Must be PARTICULARIZED to the individual – not categorical or generalized
– SHOULD be based on suspicion of ILLEGAL CONDUCT (but some cases hold that an amalgamation of legal conduct can equal suspicion of criminal conduct under some circumstances.
For an ensuing arrest to be justified, assuming reasonable suspicion existed, probable cause must exist. Probable cause exists when the “facts and circumstances within the officer’s knowledge . . . are sufficient to warrant a prudent person, or one of reasonable caution, in believing, in the circumstances shown, that the suspect has committed, is com- mitting, or is about to commit an offense.” – Michigan v. DeFillippo (SCOTUS 1979).
Whether Alabama has a state law requiring an ID to be produced under the circumstances, is of course going to be based on Alabama law, which is also probably going to require more information about what they officers knew, and when they knew it. But as I explain in the video, this seems like your everyday, “respect muh authoritah” situation. It was most likely clear that the pastor wasn’t a burglar. But his reaction to the police resulted in them feeling the need to protect and serve him, despite the fact that no crime had been committed (except of course an alleged process crime).