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Name: People v. Brown
Case #: D064641
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 1
Opinion Date: 04/22/2014
Subsequent History: Review granted 8/20/14: S218993

When a vehicle has already stopped on its own, police officer’s activation of emergency lights on patrol car is not a seizure within the Fourth Amendment. After his motion to suppress evidence was denied, Brown pled guilty to driving with a BAC of .08% or greater (Veh. Code, § 23152, subd. (b)) and admitted DUI priors. He appealed the denial of his suppression motion. The evidence at the hearing showed that a 911 caller reported a fight in an alley was in progress and referenced a loaded gun. A sheriff’s deputy arrived at the scene of the fight within minutes of the call. He saw no people in the alley, but encountered Brown who was driving his car down the alley. The deputy called out to Brown, asking if he had seen a fight; Brown did not respond and kept on driving. Brown’s location in the area of the reported fight and failure to respond aroused the deputy’s suspicion. The deputy turned his car around and followed Brown’s path. He saw Brown’s car parked on the side of the road with the brake lights on. Pulling in behind Brown, he activated his emergency lights and approached Brown, who appeared intoxicated. Brown claimed he was illegally detained when the officer activated his emergency lights, citing People v. Bailey (1985) 176 Cal.App.3d 402 [person in parked car was seized when police vehicle directed a red light to the car, even absent evidence the person to whom it was directed yielded to show of authority]. Held: Affirmed. Disagreeing with Bailey, the court concluded that a seizure does not occur when a police car pulls in behind a stopped car and activates red lights absent evidence the defendant yielded to police authority (California v. Hodari D. (1991) 499 U.S. 621). Brown was not detained until after the deputy approached his car and observed he was intoxicated.

The officer had a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Brown also argued that the 911 call was an anonymous tip and that the call, plus the deputy’s observations did not separately or collectively amount to reasonable suspicion as required by Terry v. Ohio (1968) 392 U.S. 1. The court rejected this claim. An anonymous tip, together with partial corroboration of the tip by police, could provide sufficient information to justify an investigative detention. Tips reporting observations of on-going dangerous activity with precise information have some enhanced credibility as opposed to a generic anonymous tip. Additionally, calls placed through the 911 system are entitled to some weight because there is a risk that police will identify the caller. (People v. Dolly (2007) 40 Cal.4th 458.) The 911 call here differs from the anonymous tip in Florida v. J.L. (2000) 529 U.S. 261, because an identified citizen called and reported violent activity, involving a gun, taking place outside his home. Sounds from the fight were audible to the dispatcher. The deputy was entitled to act on the dispatcher’s information. Brown was leaving the location of the fight, would not respond to the deputy’s questions, and parked his car outside the alley with the brake lights on. The circumstances provided the officer with reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.