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Officer did not seize citizen by parking nose-to-nose and shining a spotlight into parked car

State v. Justin J. Kahle, 2022AP1555-CR, District II, 1-judge decision, ineligible for publication; case activity (including briefs)

In a case heavily reliant on SCOW’s decision in County of Grant v. Vogt, the court of appeals easily concludes that law enforcement did not seize an intoxicated motorist by virtue of shining a spotlight into that motorist’s parked truck.

Police Officer Aeriond Liu initiated this case when he spotted a parked truck at a Pick ‘n Save parking lot late at night. (¶2). The Pick ‘n Save was closed, and the after-hours workers stated they were unfamiliar with the truck in question. (Id.) Officer Liu parked his squad car “about one car length” away, facing “nose to nose” with the parked truck. (¶3). The truck could have driven away at that point by “either driving forward around the squad car or by backing up.” (¶3). It didn’t move. (¶3). So Officer Liu activated his police spotlight, walked up to the car, and knocked on the window. (¶3). Once the window was rolled down, it was all over for Kahle–odor of intoxicants, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech, the works. (¶4). Kahle was arrested for an OWI offense and moved, unsuccessfully, to suppress based on an unlawful seizure. (¶5).

The court of appeals affirms in a workmanlike opinion heavily reliant on Vogt and a series of unpublished but persuasive cases. In essence, “a reasonable person in Kahle’s position could have driven away and disregarded the officer […].” (¶12). The spotlight was not so coercive that it necessarily transformed this consensual encounter into a seizure and Kahle is dinged for offering “no explanation for why he could not look away from the light and reverse to drive out of the nearly empty parking lot.” (¶13).

On its march toward affirmance, COA pauses briefly to reject Kahle’s arguments that these Fourth Amendment cases are premised on a legal fiction; namely, that they do not take into account “the behavior of real-life people who are socially conditioned not to disregard an officer.” (¶14). Even though COA appears to acknowledge that reality in responding to the argument, it declines to “deviate from” Vogt and the broad body of Fourth Amendment law at issue in his broadside attack. (Id.).

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