Unlawful Seizure Determination Rests on the Phrase “I Need You To”

State v. White, 2016 WL 6825385 (Iowa 2016)

An officer went to White’s home after a citizen saw a hit-and-run crash and noted the description and license plate of the car that fled. Arriving at White’s home, the officer saw a car that matched the description in the open garage. The officer pulled into the driveway and turned on his emergency lights. He saw White walking toward the door of the house.

Getting out of the patrol car, the officer asked White to talk to him. White did not immediately respond. The officer took one step up the porch and told White, “I need you to step down here and talk to me, OK?” White complied and he followed the officer’s direction back to the car.

The officer spoke to White about the crash. He smelled the odor of alcohol and asked White about drinking. White admitted to consuming three drinks after work. After administering field sobriety tests, the officer arrested White for driving while intoxicated.

White claimed the officer’s conduct created an unlawful seizure and he asked the court to suppress any evidence gathered after he was ordered off the porch. The trial court and the court of appeals disagreed, ruling that the officer did not compel White to step off the porch. The Iowa Supreme Court reversed the lower courts and remanded the case to determine whether other grounds justified the seizure.

The Iowa Supreme Court held that the combination of the officer’s commanding tone; wearing a uniform, badge and gun; and flashing lights on the cruiser blocking White’s driveway would have indicated “to a reasonable person that he could not proceed into his home and that compliance with directive was now mandatory.”

We’ve heard trainers teach the approach “Ask, tell, make.” That philosophy doesn’t fit with modern expectations of police. Remember to include “persuade,” even patiently if need be. Remember: Talk nice, think mean.

Lexipol’s Law Enforcement Policy Manual and Daily Training Bulletin Service provides policy updates based on changing laws and court rulings, so you can rest easy knowing your policy reflects the latest case law. Contact us today to find out more.

Ken Wallentine

KEN WALLENTINE is the Chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former Chief of Law Enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over four decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.

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