The nature of a police-citizen encounter determines whether Fourth Amendment rights are implicated and possibly infringed; without a seizure by police, Fourth Amendment protections do not apply. In Florida v. Royer, the Supreme Court revisited its stop and frisk doctrine, further clarifying when a consensual encounter becomes a seizure or when a seizure becomes an arrest.
Plainclothes narcotics detectives stopped Royer in the airport, identified themselves, and asked him to speak with them. At their request, Royer gave them his airline ticket and driver’s license. Noticing a discrepancy, the detectives told Royer they suspected he was carrying narcotics. Retaining his documents, the detectives asked Royer to come with them to a small room nearby. One detective then retrieved Royer’s luggage without his consent. When asked if he would consent to a search of the luggage, Royer simply produced a key and unlocked one bag. Marijuana was found inside, as well as in another bag. Royer was arrested and convicted of felony possession of marijuana.
In a plurality opinion, the Court found the initial encounter had escalated into an unlawful arrest when the detectives moved Royer to a small room while retaining his ticket, license, and luggage. Because Royer’s consent was given after the unlawful arrest, it was tainted by this illegality and could not justify the luggage search. Recognizing there was no brightline marking when an encounter becomes a seizure or an arrest, the Court reiterated that a lawful investigatory detention has to be limited in its scope and duration, considering the specific circumstances justifying its inception.
MARGARET M. LAWTON
References and Further Reading
Cases and Statutes Cited