PA: Officer retaining ID means citizen not free to leave and is seized

Retaining a motorist’s identification to run a warrant check was a seizure of the person. No one would feel free to leave under those circumstances. Commonwealth v. Cost, 2020 Pa. LEXIS 315 (Jan. 22, 2020):

Coupled with other relevant factors in the case, we conclude that the officer’s or his partner’s retention of Appellant’s identification card to conduct a warrant check — as he was asked if there was anything in his backpack that the officer needed to know about — was sufficient to signify to a reasonable person that he was not free to proceed about his business. Accord Pollman, 190 P.3d at 240 (“[I]f a law enforcement officer retains a driver’s license, this can be a factor considered in the totality of the circumstances and may, absent offsetting circumstances, mean a reasonable person would not feel free to leave without his or her license.” (emphasis added)). The announcement of “police,” while perfectly understandable, was an initial escalating factor. Albeit that the testimony on the point is quite scant, viewing the record in the light most favorable to Appellant, it can be concluded that the officers (also quite rationally) adopted a stance that would convey to a reasonable person that such person is perceived as a potential threat. Additionally, we agree with Appellant that repeated queries whether there is anything that a police officer “need[s] to know” about within a person’s possessions suggests some authoritative right to know about the contents.

It is also significant, in our judgment, that there is no evidence that the officer ever explained to Appellant what he intended to do with the identification card. Rather, from all appearances, once Appellant gave it to the officer, the officer simply proceeded to do with it as he wished. Again, such treatment of another’s property is a substantial escalating factor in terms of the assertion of authority.

The court also surveys the cases from other states.

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