California Supreme Court Restricts Conditions on Reasons for Detainment by Police

By Crescenzo Vellucci

The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

LOS ANGELES, CA – The California Supreme Court’s ruling last week could change how police interact with the public, and may be an important step to prevent over-policing, according to a ABC7 News.

“But some police unions say it’s going to make it harder for police to work effectively,” KGO reported.

The court, according to the decision, ruled conditions upon which police can stop and detain people should be more restrictive, in a review of The People vs. Marlon Flores.

“I think it’s a very important decision,” Sujung Kim, a managing attorney at the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office, said to KGO News, adding the court is “finally recognizing instances of over-policing — especially in communities of color.”

Kim explained, “For, you know, innocent behavior. For just being in a certain neighborhood and characterized as criminal. The court has finally acknowledged that fact.

“The only thing he (Flores) did was…was standing by a car at night in an area that the police deemed to be a high-crime area. And his so-called odd behavior was that he, the police say, ducked down, trying to tie his shoes. And was seeming to avoid police interaction,” Kim added.

In short, the ruling by the court found police—just because a person attempts to avoid contact with them—cannot detain that person, according to the decision.

KGO News noted a comment by Associate Justice Carol Corrigan, who wrote in the decision, “Before an officer can compel compliance with a show of authority… articulable facts must support a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. In the absence of such facts, the person is constitutionally protected and empowered to go on his or her way.”

Corrigan added, “One fair interpretation of the facts is that Flores initially tried to avoid being seen by the officers.  Thereafter, and somewhat inconsistently, he stood and was in view for several seconds.  He then failed to acknowledge the officers’ approach, and sought to avoid interacting with them.

“But as we explain, this behavior, along with Flores’s presence in a high crime area at night, did not provide a particularized and objective basis for suspecting that Flores was doing something illegal. It is settled that a person may decline to engage in a consensual encounter with police.”

And, Justice Kelli Evans, in a concurring comment joined by the other justices after Corrigan’s majority ruling, added, “I agree with today’s opinion that the detention of defendant Marlon Flores was unlawful.  In bending over with his hands by his shoe and refraining from acknowledging the officers’ presence, Flores indicated he was either going about his business or attempting to avoid engaging with the police — both of which were within his rights to do.

“As the majority concludes, the fact that Flores operated within his rights in a high crime area did not transform his behavior into grounds to detain him.  Based on the totality of the circumstances, there was no reasonable suspicion that Flores was engaged in criminal activity that would justify his detention.”

Evans added, “By expecting Flores to interact with the police with pleasantries — even as police approached him like a suspect — the trial court seemed to indicate that Flores could not decline a ‘consensual’ interaction unless he behaved in a very particular way.  This is clearly not the law.”

In an email to ABC7 News, Tracy McCray, president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, calls this another example of California’s criminal justice system working to protect criminals.

But, reported KGO, “many community groups don’t agree with that analysis.”

“Obviously, police officers do have a lot of discretion on the streets. They do still have a lot of leeway. There (are) a lot of ways you can interpret reasonable suspicion,” said Dr. Frances Ramos, with Communities United For Restorative Youth Justice, or CURYJ, in an ABC News interview.

She added, in that interview, she is encouraged by the Supreme Court ruling, noting  how a routine police stop can quickly escalate into pat down or detention.

“We are going up against somebody who is armed, and who we have seen has the full support of the state behind them, in terms of treating the average person however they think they should be treated,” Ramos said to KGO.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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