Is running from police enough for them to detain you? People v. Flores
Is running from police enough for them to detain you? The only real legal answer is “it depends.” Well, what if you’re running away from police and you’re running into a known high crime area…is that enough for the police to detain you? Again, it depends. And our 8/12/19 California Court of Appeals Decision* People v. Flores gives some guidance.
These cases often turn on very particular facts, so it’s important to know exactly what happened here.
The facts in Flores:
Police enter the scene and Defendant runs away into a well-known crime area. Police “suspected defendant might ‘be involved in criminal activity past, present, or taking place at that time….” “based on ‘[e]ither gang activity or drug sales because of the complaints we had received…. [c]onstantly, within days, weeks, months.'” The officer testified “about no other specifics, including nothing pointing to defendant.” The Officer “did not articulate any specific ‘complain’ of criminal activity involving or connected to defendant individually, even though he recognized defendant as he approached.”
Usually these complaints “mostly came ‘over the weekend, at night….'” but here the detention was at 1:00pm.
“[T]here is no evidence regarding what, if anything, defendant did before he fled from the alley.” “There is also nothing here to indicate whether the officers at the other end of the alley had ordered the ‘subjects’ to remain where they were, or had communicated with them in any way.” As such, Defendant “had no obligation to stay put simply because police had shown up.”
Police detain Defendant and later find illegal drugs on him.
So, was this detention lawful?
Nope. First, understand the Courts look at the “totality of the circumstances”…the “whole picture” with decisions like this. But “this ‘whole picture’ must provide articulable and objective grounds to suspect the person of criminal activity, not simply of belonging to a certain group.” Original emphasis was left in.
“Although an officer’s reliance on a mere `hunch’ is insufficient to justify a [detention], the likelihood of criminal activity need not rise to the level required for probable cause, and it falls considerably short of satisfying a preponderance of the evidence standard.”
“To legally detain an individual because of `suspicious circumstances,’ the prosecution must establish on the record that at the moment of the detention, there were specific and articulable facts, which reasonably caused officers to believe that (1) some activity out of the ordinary had taken place or was occurring or about to occur; (2) the activity was related to crime; and (3) the individual under suspicion was connected to the activity.”
Flight, even into a high crime area, does not create a per se rule that a detention is lawful. “Instead, flight is but one relevant factor in the reasonable suspicion analysis.”
Basically, there needs to be more than just the flight. As our California Supreme Court decided: “flight is probative ‘only in those instances in which there is other indication of criminality, such as evidence that the defendant fled from a crime scene or after being accused of a crime.'” “To put it succinctly, ‘there must be ‘flight plus.'” Flores citing People v. Souza (1994) 9 Cal.4th 224, 239.
So again, the detention here was unlawful. “[A]lthough defendant’s flight in a high crime area might be suggestive of wrongdoing, it did not corroborate any reliable or articulable suspicion of actual criminal behavior.”
*Court of Appeals of California, Fourth District, Division Three
He earned his JD from Thomas Jefferson School of Law and his BA in Music Education from Northern Illinois University.
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