Tag Archive | Fourth Amendment

Free to leave? Maryland courts should rethink how they determine whether a car’s occupants are seized under the Fourth Amendment

By Sam Cowin and Eleanor Erney
Guest Contributors[1]

Suppose you’re sitting in a parked car, waiting for a friend on the street outside her house, when a uniformed police officer suddenly parks behind you, approaches your car on foot, and starts to question you. If you’re like us, your heart would be in your stomach before the police officer even reached your car, and you certainly wouldn’t think that driving away from the scene in the middle of the questioning was an option. The empirical evidence suggests we are not alone: In a 2009 survey, for example, most people (regardless of gender, age, or race) responded that they would not feel free to leave if they were approached and questioned by a police officer on the street.[2] Tellingly, a number of survey respondents who knew they had a right to leave a police encounter nevertheless reported that they would not feel free to exercise that right.[3]

Yet in determining whether the police seized a person in her parked car (therefore entitling that person to Fourth Amendment protection), the Maryland courts continue to operate in a fictional world in which people ordinarily feel free to drive away when a uniformed police officer unexpectedly approaches and questions them. Read More…