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Name: People v. Flores
Case #: G055861
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 4 DCA
Division: 3
Opinion Date: 08/12/2019

An “unprovoked headlong flight” in a high crime area, without more, does not provide reasonable suspicion to perform an investigative detention. A team of police officers was investigating a residential alleyway where gang activity had been reported. Flores was seen “running from the alley,” recognized from prior contacts, and detained because he was “the closest one [police] could get.” He was not arrested or handcuffed. An officer testified Flores was not the suspect of a crime and not in the process of committing a crime. An officer asked Flores about a bulge in his sock. He replied it was meth and officers recovered drugs packaged for sale from the sock. Flores agreed to go with officers to his apartment, where they discovered additional drugs. The trial court denied a motion to suppress the drugs found in Flores’s sock and his initial statements to police because Flores’s “unprovoked headlong flight” from a high crime area provided legal cause for an investigatory detention (Illinois v. Wardlow (2000) 528 U.S. 119), but granted the motion with respect to the drugs in Flores’s apartment. The trial court declined to suppress jailhouse statements. Flores pleaded guilty to one count of possession for sale of methamphetamine and appealed. Held: Reversed and remanded. An investigative detention is legally justified “when the detaining officer can point to specific articulable facts that, considered in light of the totality of the circumstances, provide some objective manifestation that the person detained may be involved in criminal activity.” (People v. Souza (1994) 9 Cal.4th 224, 231.) Flight is only one relevant factor in determining whether an officer has reasonable suspicion to detain someone because innocent people may reasonably flee from police. (Alberty v. United States (1896) 162 U.S. 499, 511.) Similarly, presence in a high crime area is probative, but not sufficient on its own to justify a detention. Here, the detention occurred on a weekday afternoon while criminal activity was being reported on weekend nights. The contraband Flores was carrying was not obvious to officers. Moreover, Flores was walking towards the police. Even if this can be characterized as flight, the fact that the police did not pat him down for weapons, handcuff him, or detain him at gunpoint shows the trial court erred in ruling “there was articulable suspicion to detain [defendant] and to see if he either had drugs on him or some kind of a weapon that can be used in an assault.” The drugs from the sock and his initial statements should have been suppressed.

Jailhouse statements were tainted by the unlawful detention and unlawful search of defendant’s apartment and should have been suppressed. After drugs were found in Flores’s apartment, he was arrested and transported to jail, where an officer informed him of his Miranda rights. Flores admitted that he was selling methamphetamine in order to make money, and stated the drugs “he had on him” were for sale. The Court of Appeal concluded these statements were tainted by the unlawful detention and the similarly unlawful search of his bedroom, and therefore should have been suppressed. Entry into a residence is a search under the Fourth Amendment. The People did not challenge the trial court’s suppression of the drugs found inside Flores’s apartment. Here, “police did not have probable cause to arrest defendant until after he was unlawfully detained, drugs were found on his person, and he made incriminating statements. Put simply, defendant’s arrest by [police] was illegal. Moreover, the warrantless search of defendant’s room was made to find incriminating evidence, not to effectuate an otherwise lawful arrest.” The officers were not investigating a specific crime and instead “were flushing out their ‘usual suspects’ in the same manner a hunter uses a dog to dash into the brush and force gamebirds to take flight – literally.” (See Brown v. Illinois (1975) 422 U.S. 590, 605.) While the court noted police may use group detentions with suspected or known gang members to do in-field identifications, conduct field interviews, take photographs, or serve gang STEP notices, it emphasized “these practices are intelligence and information gathering techniques, not a means to exploit Fourth Amendment violations for the purpose of obtaining evidence of crimes of which the police are otherwise unaware or unsuspecting.” Flores’s Mirandized statements at the police station were obtained by exploiting these earlier Fourth Amendment violations.

The full opinion is available on the court’s website here: