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Fine Line: When Does a Voluntary Conversation Between a Citizen and an Officer Become a Seizure?

NCJ Number
Police: The Law Enforcement Magazine Volume: 27 Issue: 3 Dated: March 2003 Pages: 81-83
John A. Stephen
Date Published
March 2003
3 pages
This article analyzes the implications of a court case (People v. Rockey, 752 N.E.2d 576, 2001 Ill. App. LEXIS 469, 2001) that dealt with the issue of when a voluntary conversation between a citizen and an officer becomes a seizure.
When an officer approaches a vehicle while on duty, such as a parked car, and engages the driver in normal conversation, a constitutional seizure does not occur; however, when an officer stops a moving vehicle, this becomes a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. The court case considered in this article concerns when a voluntary encounter becomes a temporary seizure. In the case at issue, a police officer followed a vehicle that was observed late at night with its lights on in an alley, until the vehicle pulled into a driveway and parked. The officer parked nearby. The driver of the vehicle got out of her vehicle and walked toward the officer, who got out of her vehicle and met the defendant. During the conversation, the office reported smelling an odor of alcohol and noticed the defendant "staggered somewhat." The officer asked the driver for her identification and told the defendant to wait while she went to her patrol car to run a record check. The driver was eventually charged with DUI/DWI. In court, during a motion to suppress evidence, the defendant argued that a seizure took place in the driveway for Fourth Amendment purposes and that there were no articulable facts to warrant an investigatory detention. In granting the defendant's petition, the lower court stated that it did not believe that the officer's suspicion in this instance was reasonable and granted the defendant's motion to suppress. On appeal, the State argued that the seizure was supported by probable cause to believe the defendant was driving under the influence of alcohol. The appellate court rejected this argument, since the entire incident was initiated by the officer without any reasonable observable grounds for following or detaining the defendant. The constitutional test of reasonable and particularized suspicion did not support the officer's request for the ID. The court concluded that officers should not be allowed to detain any driver at any time to run a license check with out reasonable suspicion of a law violation.