S.D.Miss.: Def was seized when his car was blocked by a police car and officer approached; there was no RS

Defendant’s car was practically blocked in a parking lot by a police car, and the officer got out and approached him. A reasonable person would not feel free to leave, and he was seized without reasonable suspicion. United States v. Horton, 2020 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 185931 (S.D. Miss. Oct. 7, 2020):

At bottom, this is a fact-specific determination based on the totality of the circumstances. Mendenhall, 446 U.S. 544, 554. Here, Horton cranked his car to leave, but a reasonable person would not pull out in front of Stanton’s cruiser once he entered the parking lot. After observing Horton for at most 10 to 15 seconds, Stanton parked his cruiser in a way that effectively pinned Horton between the cruiser and the fence. And while the Government says Horton could have simply exited his vehicle and walked away, there was little time for that because Stanton parked just off Horton’s front bumper and immediately walked around the back of the cruiser toward Horton. By the time Horton could have killed the engine and exited, Stanton would have been there. Returning to the legal standard, would a reasonable person who had started his engine and was about to pull out of a parking lot, but was then blocked by a marked police cruiser and saw a uniformed and armed police officer approaching the driver’s side door believe he was free to exit his car and walk away? He would not.

The Court does not reach this conclusion lightly, and it does not like the idea that Horton may evade punishment for a felony offense he admits committing. But the Constitution is larger than Horton or the case against him. Indeed the Fourth Amendment is “[a]mong our most cherished constitutional rights.” Berry, 670 F.2d at 589. “No right is held more sacred, or is more carefully guarded, by the common law, than the right of every individual to the possession and control of his own person, free from all restraint or interference of others, unless by clear and unquestionable authority of law.” Id. at 590 (quoting Union Pac. R. Co. v. Botsford, 141 U.S. 250, 251 (1891)).

Finally, while this ruling may affect the Government’s case against Horton, the Court is not concerned that it will dampen legitimate governmental interests or law-enforcement practices. As noted, there was no reasonable suspicion that Horton had done anything wrong when he was seized. Stanton himself testified that he was just “curious” what Horton was doing in those 10 to 15 seconds. Tr. at 29. Curiosity is not enough to detain someone on the street, and any interest officers have in such circumstances is greatly outweighed by the infringement.

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