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Keller Offers Insight into Unconstitutional Stops for Minnesota Lawyer Magazine

Keller Offers Insight into Unconstitutional Stops for Minnesota Lawyer Magazine

Court Finds Illegal Stop Turns The Tide For Arrestee

By: Dan Heilman  April 5, 2018

This article was published in Minnesota Lawyer Online Publication

An unconstitutional stop and detention is just as rotten as an apple that’s been sitting in the kitchen a few weeks too long, at least according to the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

The court last week reversed a lower-court decision that had affirmed a conviction based on what it found to be unreasonable suspicion based on incriminating comments that were made after a traffic stop. The case is State v. Davis.

The appellate court, in making its decision, applied the “fruit of the poisonous tree” doctrine, which extends the exclusionary rule to make evidence inadmissible in court if it was found to be derived from illegally obtained evidence.

(The phrase was coined by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter in his 1939 opinion in Nardone v. United States.)

This case involved appellant Corey Davis Jr. Minneapolis Police officers following a car for turning without signaling early one morning in May 2015, believed that Davis, one of its passengers, had gotten out. What’s more, one officer found it odd that Davis looked toward him and then looked away before walking off.

The officer ran down Davis, grabbed him by the arm, handcuffed him and began questioning him. After Davis copped to possessing drugs and being impaired from a previous gunshot injury, officers searched the area and discovered a handgun that seemed to have been tossed away by Davis.

Constitutionality questioned

When Minneapolis police officers pulled Davis over, it was for turning without signaling. But when they saw the vehicle again, it was pulling away from a curb. The officers saw a man, later identified as Davis, standing in a yard. One officer determined that Davis had been a passenger in the vehicle that had been pulled over and noticed that Davis had averted the gaze of the officers and started quickly walking away from them.

When the police caught up with Davis, they grabbed him by the arm, handcuffed him and ordered him to sit on the curb as he was questioned him. Davis conceded that he had marijuana on him, and suggested that he was the subject of arrest warrants.

Upon searching Davis, one officer found a .38 caliber handgun in a bush. Davis’s fingerprints were on the gun, and the state charged him with possessing a firearm as an ineligible person.

Davis challenged the constitutionality of the stop and moved the Hennepin County District Court to suppress the evidence. The court held that the officer who searched Davis lacked reasonable suspicion that Davis had committed any crime, and it therefore suppressed Davis’s statements made during what was found to be an illegal detention.

At the same time, though, the court denied Davis’s motion to suppress evidence of the handgun, finding that the officers’ decision to search the area rested on reasons other than Davis’s statements. Finally, Davis was charged with and convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm.

Mistake by police

The story didn’t end there, though. Because the arresting officer lacked reasonable suspicion to stop and detain Davis, and also because the officers used the stop and Davis’ incriminating comments in their decision to search the area, the appellate court decided that the trial court should have applied the fruit-of-the-poisonous-tree doctrine and suppressed evidence of the handgun.

“That doctrine comes up pretty often in criminal cases,” said Minneapolis criminal defense lawyer Max Keller, who was not the defense attorney on the appeal.

“What [the court] said was, just because the defendant abandoned the gun before the search and seizure, that didn’t mean the evidence couldn’t be suppressed. The only reason they searched the area was because of the search and seizure. They wouldn’t have gone nosing around there if they hadn’t grabbed him,” Keller continued.

Among other issues, the Court of Appeals had to decide whether the District Court erred by finding that the officer did not base his decision to search the area on information he got while he detained Davis in what was ultimately an unconstitutional manner.

Also under consideration was whether evidence of the handgun should have been suppressed as fruit of the unconstitutional stop and detention, and whether evidence of the handgun should be excluded under the fruit-of-the-poisonous-tree doctrine.

When it came to the flagrancy of police misconduct, the court concluded that the behavior of the police was unacceptable.

“A passenger leaves a car whose driver failed to signal a turn, and the passenger is then grabbed by the arm, handcuffed, and ordered to the curb for police questioning in a residential neighborhood in broad daylight?” asked presiding Judge Randolph W. Peterson in his co-written opinion.

“All because, according to the officer, it appeared as though the person wanted to avoid interacting with police? This humiliating behavior is so obviously inconsistent with what the Fourth Amendment demands that we have no difficulty declaring it to be a flagrant affront to constitutional policing,” the judge continued.

“The decision shows that the Court of Appeals is willing to apply the exclusionary rule to punish the police for wrongdoing,” said Keller.

(Click here to view a pdf version of this article)

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