Cal.: Officer spotlighting a parked car and then approaching isn’t necessarily a seizure

“A sheriff’s deputy patrolling after dark saw three people sitting in a legally parked car in a residential neighborhood, smoking something. He pulled up behind the car, illuminated it with a spotlight, and approached on foot. We granted review to examine the significance of the deputy’s use of a spotlight in this circumstance. We conclude that shining a spotlight for illumination does not ipso facto constitute a detention under the Fourth Amendment. Rather, the proper inquiry requires consideration of the totality of the circumstances, including the use of a spotlight.” All the authorities from other jurisdictions surveyed and in this state show spotlighting is not seizure. Brown from SCOTUS mandates a totality of the circumstances view. People v. Tacardon, 2022 Cal. LEXIS 7809 (Dec. 29, 2022):

Under Tacardon’s proposed rule, any person who is aware of police scrutiny and is then illuminated by a spotlight is necessarily detained. Such a rigid approach fails to properly honor the totality of the circumstances test noted in Brown. A person approached by an officer may well consider himself the object of official scrutiny. Indeed he is. An officer of the law has initiated a contact for some reason and is requesting interaction. The question is where Fourth Amendment jurisprudence draws the line between mere consensual contact, which requires no justification, and a detention, which requires articulation of a reasonable suspicion that a crime may be afoot. But the high court has long held an officer’s mere approach does not constitute a seizure. (Bostick, supra, 501 U.S. at p. 434; Chesternut, supra, 486 U.S. at pp. 575-576; INS v. Delgado (1984) 466 U.S. 210, 216 (Delgado); Florida v. Royer (1983) 460 U.S. 491, 497 (plur. opn. of White, J.).) While a reasonable person in Tacardon’s position might “feel himself the object of official scrutiny, such directed scrutiny does not amount to a detention.” (Perez, supra, 211 Cal.App.3d at p. 1496; accord, People v. Chamagua (2019) 33 Cal.App.5th 925, 927, 929; Franklin, supra, 192 Cal.App.3d 935, 940.) A detention occurs, not the moment a person knows an officer would like to interact, but when a person would reasonably believe he or she “‘”was not free to leave”‘ or ‘”otherwise terminate the encounter,”‘” and submits to the officer’s show of authority. (Brown, supra, 61 Cal.4th at p. 974.)

Notably, courts ruling a detention occurred have emphasized other coercive aspects of the officer’s approach that are not present here. Wilson v. Superior Court (1983) 34 Cal.3d 777 is instructive in considering when targeted scrutiny might transform a contact into a detention. …

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