Law Enforcement Bulletin

Sign up for newsletters and other news
Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > July 2015 > Search and Seizure (Consensual Encounters, Warrant Checks): State v. Tabler

Law Enforcement Bulletin RSS feeds

Search and Seizure (Consensual Encounters, Warrant Checks): State v. Tabler

Question: Can a consensual encounter become a seizure when an officer retains identification information and conducts a warrant check?

Quick Answer: Yes.

State v. Tabler, 10th Appellate District, Franklin County, June 30, 2015

Facts: An officer observed a gold Camry parked on a street in a high crime area that was known for having guns and drugs. The vehicle’s lights were turned off and the car was running. The officer parked behind the Camry and observed three occupants. The defendant was in the back seat. The officer approached the vehicle and explained to the occupants that he was just checking to make sure they were OK. The officer asked for their information, collected their identification, and checked for warrants. The check revealed no outstanding warrants and the officer returned to the Camry five to 10 minutes later. Upon returning to the Camry, the officer repeatedly asked if he could search the car. The driver explained he didn’t know if he could consent to a search of a vehicle that didn’t belong to him, but eventually told the officer he didn’t care. Four back-up officers arrived on scene and they discovered a weapon during the vehicle search. 

Importance: A person is seized, for purposes of the Fourth Amendment, when a reasonable person would not feel that they are free to leave. Courts have held that a reasonable person would not believe they are free to leave when a police officer retains identification information for purposes of conducting a warrant check. Without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the occupants were subject to an unlawful detention which continued when the officer sought the driver’s consent to search the vehicle.

Keep in Mind: The initial encounter between the officer and the occupants was a consensual encounter and legally permissible. As long as a person feels free to leave or not answer your questions, the encounter is consensual. In this case, the consensual encounter became an unlawful seizure when the officer took their identification and ran a check for warrants. Because of the unlawful detainment, the court found that the consent was involuntary.