The Fourth Amendment Still Has Meaning

There is hope that the 4th Amendment still has meaning. The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled recently in the matter of the State of Minnesota vs. Michael Anthony Clark that a seizure has not occurred by a police officer when the officer activates and shines its spotlight on a person without any other show of authority.

In this case, a woman reported to Minneapolis Police that she saw two men walking with shotguns. Mr. Clark and his friend happened to be walking down the street a few blocks away. When the officer saw Mr. Clark and his friend walking, she shined her spotlight on the two men since it was night. Mr. Clark and his friend ran. While the two men were running, Mr. Clark dropped a 9mm handgun. The two men were arrested and Mr. Clark was charged with a prohibited person in possession of a firearm.

In Minnesota, a criminal conviction may prohibit you from owning or possessing a firearm. Mr. Clark was subsequently convicted of unlawfully possessing a firearm. However, during the trial and on appeal Mr. Clark’s attorney argued that the 9mm handgun was unlawfully obtained by the Minneapolis Police and should not be allowed as evidence against him. The basis for the argument to not allow the handgun as evidence was based on the assertion that the police unlawfully stopped or seized Mr. Clark when the officer shined her spotlight on Mr. Clark.

The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects us from unlawful search and seizure by the police. Reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity is necessary in order to seize or detain you. The determination of whether a seizure has occurred depends upon the totality of the circumstances of the particular case. However, generally a person is seized by the police when a reasonable person under the circumstances would not feel free to ignore police questions or terminate the encounter.

Mr. Clark’s attorney argued that the police’s use of the spotlight was a sufficient show of force to stop or seize Mr. Clark. The appeals court disagreed. The appeals court ruled that a police officer would have to do more than shining a spotlight on a person to make a person reasonably believe they were not free to leave. The appeals court did not address what more the police would have to do or what other facts in the circumstances would constitute a stop or seizure. However, the police must do something besides shining a spotlight on you. As such, Mr. Clark was not seized when the police shined a spotlight on Mr. Clark.

What does this mean for you?

If you are walking down the street and the police shine a spotlight on you, you can keep walking and ignore the police’s spotlight. You are not stopped or seized until the police do something more to indicate a display of authority over you. This ruling by the appeals court demonstrates that the 4th Amendment still protects your right to walk down the street and ignore interference from a police spotlight, until the police demonstrate sufficient authority to stop or seize you.

If the police do display authority sufficient to stop or seize you, then the police must have a sufficient reason for stopping or seizing you. The appeals court did not address in this case whether the police had a sufficient reason or probable cause to stop Mr. Clark. I will discuss what your rights are when the police stop you in an upcoming blog post.

If you have or believe you will be charged with a crime and believe your 4th Amendment rights have been violated, contact a Minneapolis criminal defense attorney for a free consultation. Your rights are important and you should have someone fighting to protect your rights.