The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated.” U.S. Const. amend. IV; N.J. Const. art. I, ¶ 7. Warrantless searches and seizures presumptively violate those protections, but not all police-citizen encounters constitute searches or seizures for purposes of the warrant requirement. Note that the seizure at issue with an investigatory detention is a seizure of the person.
Three categories of encounters with police have been identified by the courts: (1) field inquiry; (2) investigative detention; and (3) arrest. The test of a field inquiry is whether a defendant, under all of the attendant circumstances, reasonably believed he could walk away without answering any of the officer’s questions. In contrast to a field inquiry, an investigative detention, also called a Terry stop or an investigatory stop, occurs during a police encounter when an objectively reasonable person would feel that his or her right to move has been restricted. Because an investigative detention is a temporary seizure that restricts a person’s movement, it must be based on an officer’s reasonable and particularized suspicion that an individual has just engaged in, or was about to engage in, criminal activity. An arrest requires probable cause and generally is supported through an arrest warrant or by demonstration of grounds that would have justified one.
The key issue in this case lies in the distinction between a field inquiry and an investigative detention. The difference between a field inquiry and an investigative detention always comes down to whether an objectively reasonable person would have felt free to leave or terminate the encounter with police. The encounter is measured from a defendant’s perspective.
A person sitting in a lawfully parked car outside her home who suddenly finds herself blocked in by a patrol car that shines a flood light into the vehicle, only to have the officer exit his marked car and approach the driver’s side of the vehicle, would not reasonably feel free to leave. Here, the officer immediately asked for defendant’s identification. Although not determinative, that fact only reinforces that this was an investigative detention. It defies typical human experience to believe that one who is ordered to produce identification in such circumstances would feel free to leave. That conduct is not a garden-variety, non-intrusive, conversational interaction between an officer and an individual.
This holding will no doubt be used as a basis to teach police officers to report that evidence was uncovered before a request for identification was made. The most common lie is to say that the drugs were seen in plain view.