If you happen to be parked legally on the roadside and a law enforcement officer offers assistance all well and good. However if the officer then requests your license and makes his way back to his patrol car to run a background check tell the officer to immediately stop. As your constitutional rights have just been violated. This was direction from the Court of Appeals (N.C.) arising from a case in Anson County.
When the officer took the driver of the vehicle’s (Keith Leak) license back to the patrol car in order to carry out a background check. The officers actions amounted to that of an illegal seizure. The ruling was 2-1 by the appeal judges. On 30th April 2012 Chief Gallimore was patrolling Highway 74 and came across Leak’s parked car off road in a gravelled area. Stopping to offer assistance Leak advised he was fine and he was no more than texting. Gallimore then requested Leak’s license which was forthcoming.
Irrespective that there was no suspicion of criminal activity the officer felt obliged to run a license check and a background check. He put forward that there appeared to be several individuals driving with licenses that were revoked. When Gallimore returned to his patrol car and carried out a background check an outstanding warrant came to light from 2007. When the officer returned to Leak he requested he alight the vehicle at which point Leak advised he was carrying a .22 pistol.
Leak was then arrested as a convicted felon and firearm possession and further indicted. A motion to suppress evidence then followed contesting that the officer’s actions to seize his license with no suspicion of criminal activity was a violation of his 4th Amendment Rights. The judge at the time denied Leak and he was found guilty and placed on 1 years probation.
However the Appeals Court ruling decided the officer did act unreasonably. Following the inspection of the license Leak should have continued on his way. The officer’s actions prevented this. The Appeal judges overturned Leak’s conviction and further suppressed the reference to the pistol. A consensual encounter between a citizen and an officer, within the 4th Amendment, can become a detention or seizure. Taking in to account the circumstances a reasonable person believed the driver was not free to leave and/or terminate the encounter.
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