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Prolonged Detention to Await Backup Was Reasonable

A detention by a police officer accomplished by a show of authority (as opposed to simply a consensual encounter) requires only reasonable suspicion that the detained person has committed or is about to commit a crime. However, the duration of the detention should also be no more than reasonably necessary for its purpose. The Tennessee Supreme Court, in the recent case of State v. Montgomery, M2013-01149-SC-R11-CD (Tenn. 3-27-2015), reversing a previous ruling by the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals, has determined that a ten to fifteen wait for backup in a DUI investigation was not unreasonable.

Prolonged Detention to Await Backup Was Reasonable

A detention by a police officer accomplished by a show of authority (as opposed to simply a consensual encounter) requires only reasonable suspicion that the detained person has committed or is about to commit a crime. However, the duration of the detention should also be no more than reasonably necessary for its purpose. The Tennessee Supreme Court, in the recent case of State v. Montgomery, M2013-01149-SC-R11-CD (Tenn. 3-27-2015), reversing a previous ruling by the trial court and the Court of Criminal Appeals, has determined that a ten to fifteen wait for backup in a DUI investigation was not unreasonable.

Reasonable Suspicion Upheld Despite Working Headlight

A police officer must have reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred or is about to occur before initiating a warrantless stop or detention of a vehicle to investigate. But the suspicion must only be reasonable at the time of the seizure. It does not have to be proven ultimately correct. In the recent Tennessee case of State v. Mullican, M2014-01122-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 3-4-2015), the Court of Criminal Appeals affirmed a trial court ruling validating a stop of a vehicle for having one headlight out when it was supposed to be on, despite the fact that both headlights on the seized vehicle later appeared to be working when the vehicle was examined in an impound lot.

Database Error Still Reasonable Suspicion for a Stop

Authorities must have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity before they can lawfully seize a person to conduct an investigation. Stopping a motor vehicle by a show of authority is a seizure. But though the suspicion must be reasonable, that does not necessarily mean it must be accurate. In the recent Tennessee case of State v. Meadows, M2013-01650-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 2-10-2015), the Court of Criminal Appeals found that a vehicle stop which was based on incorrect information in a database was still reasonable, as it was reasonable for the police officer to rely on that information.

Smell of Alcohol is Reasonable Suspicion for DUI Investigation

Reasonable suspicion of criminal activity is generally necessary for a police officer to use authority to compel a warrantless stop or detention of an individual. In the recent Tennessee case of State v Wessels, M2012-01969-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 9-20-2013), the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that a police officer who claimed to smell alcohol on a driver had reasonable suspicion to detain the driver after a traffic stop to conduct a DUI investigation.

Smell of Alcohol is Reasonable Suspicion for DUI Investigation

Reasonable suspicion of criminal activity is generally necessary for a police officer to use authority to compel a warrantless stop or detention of an individual. In the recent Tennessee case of State v Wessels, M2012-01969-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 9-20-2013), the Court of Criminal Appeals concluded that a police officer who claimed to smell alcohol on a driver had reasonable suspicion to detain the driver after a traffic stop to conduct a DUI investigation.

Incorrect License Tag Creates Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion that a person may have committed a crime or be in the process of committing a crime is necessary before a person can be detained (nonconsensually) by law enforcement for even a brief investigation. Reasonable suspicion must be based upon articulable facts. A detention or seizure, which occurs unlawfully, may invalidate evidence obtained as a result of that illegal seizure. In the recent Tennessee case of State v. Seay, M2011-02769-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 7-16-2013), the Court of Criminal Appeals noted that having the wrong license tag on a vehicle does create reasonable suspicion for further investigation.

Incorrect License Tag Creates Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion that a person may have committed a crime or be in the process of committing a crime is necessary before a person can be detained (nonconsensually) by law enforcement for even a brief investigation. Reasonable suspicion must be based upon articulable facts. A detention or seizure, which occurs unlawfully, may invalidate evidence obtained as a result of that illegal seizure. In the recent Tennessee case of State v. Seay, M2011-02769-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 7-16-2013), the Court of Criminal Appeals noted that having the wrong license tag on a vehicle does create reasonable suspicion for further investigation.

Community Care Taking Encounter is Objectively Reasonable

Community care taking is one of the functions of law enforcement. A police officer performing a community care taking function needs no additional objective justification (reasonable suspicion or probable cause) for an encounter with members of the public. Community care taking encounters are considered consensual. A police officer may approach a car parked in public and ask for driver identification and proof of registration without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. A police officer may also check on a distressed driver. In the recent case of State v. Lowe, M2012-01741-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 7-5-2013), the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals found it reasonable for a police officer to open the door of a vehicle to check on a possibly distressed driver.

Community Care Taking Encounter is Objectively Reasonable

Community care taking is one of the functions of law enforcement. A police officer performing a community care taking function needs no additional objective justification (reasonable suspicion or probable cause) for an encounter with members of the public. Community care taking encounters are considered consensual. A police officer may approach a car parked in public and ask for driver identification and proof of registration without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. A police officer may also check on a distressed driver. In the recent case of State v. Lowe, M2012-01741-CCA-R3-CD (Tenn.Crim.App. 7-5-2013), the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals found it reasonable for a police officer to open the door of a vehicle to check on a possibly distressed driver.

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