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Court Finds Defendant Was Not Seized Although Police Boxed in Defendant’s Car, Preventing Him from Leaving

Recently, an appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona drug trafficking case requiring the court to determine whether the lower court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress. The court ultimately concluded that the police possessed reasonable suspicion to approach the defendant in his car and order him out, at which point the defendant was legally arrested based on the officers’ observations. Thus, the court held that the defendant’s motion was properly denied below.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, Tucson police received a tip that someone was selling narcotics out of a home. Officers drove to the location, and watched as a man entered the residence and then left a short time later. Police followed the man to a restaurant parking lot.

Evidently, shortly after the man pulled into a restaurant parking lot, another man got into the vehicle through the front passenger door. Initially, the two men were sitting upright; however, shortly after the second man got into the car both seats reclined below the level of the window so that they were not visible by passersby. At this point, the police officers pulled their vehicles up next to the defendant’s, effectively boxing him in so he could not leave.

Apparently, the officers exited their vehicles and approached the defendant’s car. As they approached, they saw defendant sitting in the driver’s seat with a “lap full of cash.” Police ordered the defendant out of the vehicle, searched him and the car, and then arrested him after discovering marijuana and methamphetamine in the vehicle. The defendant filed a motion to suppress the physical evidence in the case, arguing that the police did not possess reasonable suspicion to box in his car, approach his vehicle, and order him out of the car.

The defendant argued that the officer’s observations that he had a “lap full of cash” should not be considered in the analysis because the officers were only able to make that observation based on an illegal stop. Specifically, the defendant claimed that when the officers boxed in his vehicle, he was effectively seized and that seizure was not justified by reasonable suspicion.

The court rejected the defendant’s argument, holding that the officer’s conduct in blocking in his vehicle did not subject the defendant to an illegal “seizure.” The court explained that while an officer’s decision to box in a defendant may result in a seizure, that is only the case where there is some evidence that the defendant either knew of the officers’ presence or submitted to their authority. Here, the court explained that the defendant was reclined in his seat as the officers approached, and that there was no evidence suggesting he was aware of their presence. Thus, the court determined that the “lap full of cash” was validly considered as part of the reasonable-suspicion analysis.

The court went on to reject the defendant’s remaining arguments, finding that the police officers’ observations provided reasonable suspicion to believe that the defendant was engaged in some sort of illegal conduct.

Have You Been Arrested in an Arizona Drug Case?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with an Arizona drug crime, you should contact Attorney James E. Novak to discuss your case. Attorney Novak is a dedicated Arizona criminal defense attorney with extensive experience representing those who have been charged with serious Arizona crimes. Whether you are facing an Arizona gun case, drug possession case, or DUI charge, Attorney Novak can help. To learn more, call 480-413-1499 to schedule a free consultation.

Additional Resources:

Other Articles of Interest from The Law Office of James Novak’s Award Winning Blog:

Court Determines Digital Photographs Were Reviewable by a Jury Even When Not Admitted into Evidence, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, October 24, 2018

Arizona Court Distinguishes Between Diminished Capacity and Justification Defenses, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, September 19, 2018

The Crimes of Assault and Aggravated Assault in Arizona, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, October 10, 2018

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