Supreme Court upholds arrest — even after declaring officer's reason for arrest invalid
In a recent decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court, the court held that an arrest based on a faulty charge was nonetheless valid as long as the police had other, legitimate grounds for making the arrest.
On Nov. 22, 1997, a police officer in Washington State was on Route 16 when he saw a broken-down car on the opposite side of the road. Behind the car was another vehicle, which had flashing lights on its roof, similar to police lights. The officer turned around to check on the motorists, but when he approached, Alford, the owner of the vehicle with the flashing lights, hurriedly drove away.
Based on the motorists' statements and his own observations, the officer believed Alford was impersonating a police officer. During the subsequent traffic stop, the officer noticed that Alford had a police frequency radio, a set of handcuffs, and a police scanner in the car; however, the officer did not arrest Alford until he noticed Alford was recording their present conversation.
The arrest was based on the belief that Alford was violating the State Privacy Act.
Though Alford was initially convicted, the appeals court threw out the charge because the police did not have privacy rights in their conversations with motorists.
Alford subsequently sued the officer, claiming the arrest lacked probable cause and, thus, violated his Fourth Amendment rights. The Ninth Circuit agreed. However, when the officer subsequently appealed this ruling, the Supreme Court reversed the Circuit Court’s decision! Though the Supreme Court agreed that the privacy violation charge was invalid, it held that there was no Fourth Amendment violation because the officer did have probable cause to arrest Alford on the separate charge of impersonating a police officer.
A full analysis of this case, Davenpeck v. Alford, 2004 U.S. LEXIS 8272, appears in the February 2005 edition of Quinlan’s Arrest Law Bulletin!
Quinlan's Legal Tips: Investigative Stops Quiz
The following is an excerpt from the Investigative Stops Quiz, the full version of which will appear in the January edition of Quinlan’s Investigative Stops Bulletin.
A. What is the Exclusionary Rule?
The exclusionary rule is a judge-made doctrine that prohibits the introduction, in a criminal trial, of evidence gained in violation of a person's Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment rights (Note: The rest of this quiz will refer only to Fourth Amendment violations). The rule applies not only to evidence obtained during the police misconduct, but also to other evidence obtained or derived from the exploitation of the unlawfully-obtained evidence.
B. Does this mean that all evidence discovered after a Fourth Amendment violation will be inadmissible?
No. For evidence to be suppressed, its discovery must have been the result of the Fourth Amendment violation. Where there is a weak link between the police misconduct and the discovery of evidence, courts will be less likely to exclude the evidence.
C. Officer O is on patrol in a high-crime area when he sees Criminal C standing on a street corner. O has a hunch that C is selling drugs, so he detains C and pats him down. This frisk uncovers several packets of cocaine. Will the drug evidence be admissible in court?
Based on the above facts alone, the evidence will be suppressed. C's mere presence on a street corner in a high-crime area would not create a reasonable suspicion that he was engaged in criminal activities. Because the drugs were discovered as a result of the unlawful investigative stop and frisk, they would have to be suppressed.
NOTE: This quiz is for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The answers to these questions are based on federal law. State laws may be more restrictive of officer conduct. Whenever you are unclear about proper procedure, and for answers to your particular questions, please ask an attorney in your jurisdiction.