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United States v. Tafuna.

No. 20-4078.  D.Utah. Judge Baldock. Fourth Amendment—Motion to Suppress—Investigative Detention—Consensual Encounter.

July 26, 2021

Defendant was sitting in the passenger seat of a car parked in the corner of an apartment complex parking lot at 1 a.m. Three other individuals were also in the car, which was backed into an uncovered parking space. An officer patrolling the complex pulled up to the car at an angle without blocking the car or obstructing its path of egress and activated the police vehicle’s takedown lights but not the vehicle’s flashing red and blue lights. The officer asked the individuals what they were doing and for their names and birth dates. Defendant stated that he was on parole and had a knife on him. During his records search, the officer discovered that defendant was listed as having a gang affiliation and as potentially armed and violent. The officer called for backup, and the responding officer noted that defendant’s parole agreement included a search provision and standard weapons clause. A pat-down of defendant revealed a pocketknife, and a vehicle search revealed a firearm underneath the passenger seat.

All vehicle occupants were arrested. Following Miranda warnings, defendant admitted to possessing the firearm. He was charged with possession of a firearm after a felony conviction. Defendant moved to suppress the firearm and his confession. The district court initially granted the motion but on reconsideration it vacated the order, determining that officers did not seize defendant at any time during the encounter before they had developed reasonable suspicion. Defendant then entered a conditional guilty plea that reserved his right to appeal the denial of his motion to suppress.

On appeal, defendant conceded that there was reasonable suspicion to detain him after he said he was on parole and had a knife. Defendant argued that he was detained without reasonable suspicion when the officer (1) parked his police vehicle at an angle to the parked car and activated the vehicle’s takedown lights, and (2) approached the parked car on foot and asked the occupants for their names and birth dates. However, the officer’s actions in parking his vehicle at an angle to the parked car, activating the takedown lights, approaching the car on foot, and asking for the car’s occupants’ names and birth dates would not have made a reasonable person believe that he or she could not decline the officer’s requests or terminate the encounter. These inquiries are consensual unless the officer conveys a message that compliance is required. Accordingly, defendant was not seized during his initial encounter with the officer.

The judgment was affirmed.

Official US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit proceedings can be found at the US Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit website.

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