When are you seized?

How do you determine if a seizure occurs? Not all interaction between law enforcement officers and citizens is a seizure. The test to determine if a seizure occurs is an objective test involving a reasonable person standard. A court must look to all of the circumstances surrounding the interaction to determine whether a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave the encounter with the police officer. To determine whether a seizure has occurred, a court will consider a nonexhaustive list of factors, including:
• the threatening presence of several officers;
• the display of a weapon by an officer;
• some physical touching of the person of the citizen;
• the use of language or tone of voice indicating that compliance with the officer’s
request might be compelled;
• whether the officer was blocking the defendant’s path to leave;
• the use of sirens, lights, or a loudspeaker;
• the display of a badge or wearing of a uniform;
• the location of the encounter;
• whether there was a chase; and
• whether the officer approaches on foot or in a vehicle.
I would caution a court’s definition of a reasonable person and most likely your definition of a reasonable person are not the same. For example in State v. Ciomei, 2015 ME 147 the Maine Law Court found a reasonable person would feel free to leave under the following fact pattern: It was a dark November night. It was after midnight. A game warden was on patrol seeking individuals engaged in night hunting. The Defendant was parked parked partially in the road with its headlights on. The warden believed the lights were pointing toward a field directly across from the intersection causing the warden to believe night hunting was occurring. As the warden approached the vehicle it became obvious two people were urinating on the side of the road. The warden parked behind the truck but did not block the trucks ability to pull forward. The warden exited his vehicle and said “Hi, Game Warden” and asked what was going on. The Defendant argued that at this point he was seized because he did not feel like he could get in his truck and leave. The Law Court disagreed and said a reasonable person in these circumstances would feel free to leave. The Law Court found a seizure occurred in this case when the warden observed signs of intoxication which happened after the above.

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