Flight in a high crime area does not give police probable cause to detain

(People v. Flores (Aug. 12, 2019, No. G055861) ___Cal.App.5th___ [2019 Cal. App. LEXIS 740, at *1].)

Gang Investigation Leads to Detention

A team of Huntington Beach police officers investigating the “Looney Tunes Crew,” also known as the “LTK” street gang, saw the defendant in an area where they knew criminal activity took place. Defendant was walking briskly and was not a suspect in a particular crime nor in the process of committing a crime.

The defendant was detained and was not patted down for weapons or handcuffed or placed under arrest.

An officer noticed a bulge in defendant’s sock. Defendant, when questioned it was “meth.” Officers then searched the defendant’s home without him having given consent.

Garcia knocked on the door, and once he confirmed the probationer brother was at home, the officers entered. Defendant did not give consent either to the entry or to any subsequent search inside. After being asked by the officers if there was anything illegal in the home, the defendant pulled out a shirt containing four small baggies of suspected methamphetamine.

Defendant was arrested for for possession of a controlled substance with the intent to sell.

Reasonable Suspicion of Criminal Activity Needed for Detention

A person is seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment when an officer, using a show of authority or physical force, intentionally restrains the person’s freedom to move. (Brendlin v. California (2007) 551 U.S. 249, 254)

An investigative detention is legally justified “when the detaining officer can point to specific articulable facts that, considered in light of the totality of the circumstances, provide some objective manifestation that the person detained may be involved in criminal activity.” (People v. Souza (1994) 9 Cal.4th 224, 231)

Sufficient Suspicion of Criminal Activity Needed to Support Detention

The totality of the circumstances—the whole picture—must be taken into account and provide articulable and objective grounds to suspect the person of criminal activity, not simply of belonging to a certain group; without more, it is not a crime to associate with a criminal street gang.

“The touchstone of analyzing a detention, or for that matter any Fourth Amendment issue, is reasonableness.” (People v. Foranyic (1998) 64 Cal.App.4th 186, 188) and  ‘“some minimal level of objective justification’” for a detention. (INS v. Delgado (1984) 466 U.S. 210, 229) “

Detention Because of Suspicious Circumstances Requires Articulable Facts

A legal detention requires specific and articulable facts, which reasonably cause officers to believe that (1) some activity out of the ordinary had taken place or was occurring or about to occur; (2) the activity was related to crime; and (3) the individual under suspicion was connected to the activity. (People v. Bower (1979) 24 Cal.3d 638, 644 )

Flight is Not Enough to Establish Reasonable Suspicion to Detain

The Supreme Court has never endorsed a per se rule that flight establishes reasonable suspicion to detain, recognizing that innocent people may reasonably flee from police: Instead, flight is but one relevant factor in the reasonable suspicion analysis.

People Lacked Specific, Articulable Grounds to Detain Defendant

Here the People failed to show specific, articulable grounds to justify detaining defendant. The evidence obtained from defendant immediately following his detention was unlawfully obtained and should have been suppressed. (United States v. Crews (1980) 445 U.S. 463, 470, 471)

Defendant’s Subsequent Stationhouse Statements Were Tainted by Both His Unlawful Detention and the Unlawful Search of His Bedroom.

Unlike a detention—a limited seizure justified merely by reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity—normally a search may only be justified by probable cause, whether with or without a warrant.

Defendant’s subsequent statements at the stationhouse were tainted by the unlawful detention and the similarly unlawful search of his bedroom, and therefore should have been suppressed.

The Court of Appeals remanded the case with directions to grant defendant’s motion to suppress in its entirety.