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Arizona Court Rejects Defendant’s Claim that He Was Seized During Police Encounter

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona gun crime case involving the defendant’s challenge to the legality of the search conducted by police officers that led to the discovery of the firearm. Ultimately, the court held that the defendant voluntarily answered the questions posed by police, and he was not seized before the police officers developed probable cause to search his vehicle. Thus, the court affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

According to the court’s opinion, two police officers pulled into a dark parking lot and saw the defendant sitting in a car with another person. The officers observed the two men for about a minute before approaching the defendant’s car. One officer approached on each side of the car, and as they approached, they recognized the smell of burnt marijuana.

One of the officers asked the defendant, “Real quick, [are] there any guns, bombs, knives, Bazookas, or dead bodies inside the vehicle that I need to learn about?” The defendant replied that there were not. When the officer followed up with a request that the defendant exit the car, the defendant told him no and asked for a supervisor or a lawyer. The defendant was removed from the car, and the officers recovered a firearm and narcotics from the car. Subsequent to his arrest, the defendant admitted to possession of the gun and the drugs.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the physical evidence, as well as his statement. The defendant argued that the police officers impermissibly seized him when they approached his parked vehicle with one officer on each side, asking him potentially inculpatory questions. The trial court rejected the defendant’s motion, holding that the defendant was not illegally seized prior to the officers developing probable cause to search the vehicle. The defendant appealed.

On appeal, the court upheld the defendant’s conviction. The court explained that the defendant was not seized, constitutionally speaking, when the two officers approached his vehicle on either side. As the officers approached, the court noted, they then smelled burnt marijuana, giving them a legal basis to question the defendant. Prior to the officers smelling the marijuana, the court explained, they took no action to exert force or authority over the defendant. Thus, the court concluded that the defendant was not seized. Once the officers smelled the marijuana, they had a legal basis to question the defendant in more detail, eventually leading to the legitimate search of the vehicle.

Have You Been Arrested for Gun Possession in Arizona?

If you have recently been arrested for a gun crime in Arizona, contact Attorney James E. Novak for immediate assistance. Attorney Novak is a dedicated Phoenix criminal defense attorney with extensive experience handling all types of serious criminal charges, including gun possession crimes. He is knowledgeable in state and federal search and seizure laws, and he zealously defends his clients’ constitutional rights at every step of the way. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation with Attorney Novak, call 480-413-1499 today.