California Supreme Court Rules People Cannot be Detained for Trying to Evade Police Officers

US

The California Supreme Court declared that law enforcement officers cannot detain individuals because they attempt to avoid police contact. This unanimous decision has stirred a significant response from police unions, who argue that it will hamper their ability to maintain public safety effectively.

The court, in a 7-0 decision, stated that actions such as appearing to conceal oneself or acting nervously do not alone provide a sufficient basis for officers to detain individuals.

This was elaborated in an opinion by Justice Carol Corrigan, emphasizing that while such behaviors could be considered within a broader context, they do not meet the threshold of “reasonable suspicion of criminal activity” necessary to legally detain someone.

The ruling stemmed from the case of Marlon Flores, arrested in 2019 in a gang-infested area of Los Angeles. The court’s papers detail how Flores appeared to avoid police by hiding behind a vehicle, trying to tie his shoes and avoiding contact with police, actions that the officers initially deemed suspicious, according to Epoch Times.

However, Justice Corrigan pointed out, “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.”

Justice Kelli Evan reinforced the decision by highlighting Flores’s right to go about his business or avoid police engagement without being subjected to detention.

Police unions have expressed concerns that this ruling will lead to increased criminal activities, as officers might be less able to intervene effectively in suspicious situations. They argue that the decision ties their hands, particularly in areas where quick judgments are often necessary to prevent crime.

Los Angeles Times reported:

The decision — in a case brought by a Los Angeles man arrested on suspicion of having drugs and a gun after police said he tried to hide from them — was immediately blasted by the union that represents rank-and-file Los Angeles Police Department officers, which called the high court “out-of-touch.” The LAPD did not respond to a request for comment.

Richard Fitzer, an attorney for plaintiff Marlon Flores, praised public defenders who worked the case initially and called the ruling “a vindication of the rights of minorities.” The outcome was possible, he said, because of the Racial Justice Act, a 2020 California law that prohibits discrimination in the state’s criminal justice system based on a defendant’s race, ethnicity or national origin.

Justice Kelli Evans, the high court’s newest member, wrote in a concurring opinion joined by four other justices that said “many individuals — including, particularly, people of color — commonly hold a perception that engaging in any manner with police, including in seemingly casual or innocuous ways, entails a degree of risk to one’s safety.”

Evans listed the names of 35 people killed in interactions with police in recent years, including Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Stephon Clark, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.

“Due to this searing history and the present day experiences of far too many people in the United States, for generations, legions of parents in minority communities have given their children ‘the talk’ — detailing survival techniques for how to navigate interactions with police ‘all out of fear of how an officer with a gun will react to them,’” Evans wrote. “Given this context, it is apparent why attempting to avoid police officers reflects, for many people, simply a desire to avoid risking injury or death.”

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