On April 25, 2018, the Court of Appeals of Georgia decided Jenkins v. the State[i], in which the court examined whether a driver is seized under the Fourth Amendment when an officer initiates a traffic stop, the driver stops and then the driver flees as the officer walks up to the vehicle. The relevant facts of Jenkins, taken directly from the case, are as follows:
The evidence showed that agents of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration were conducting surveillance on a residence in Duluth assisted by a Georgia State Patrol officer stationed in his patrol vehicle near the residence. When the agents advised the GSP officer that a black Toyota Tundra had arrived at the residence and had just left, the officer followed the Tundra and attempted to conduct a traffic stop on the basis that it was raining at the time and the Tundra was being operated without its lights on in violation of OCGA § 40-8-20 and with a license tag that was partially concealed in violation of OCGA § 40-2-6. The officer pulled in behind the Tundra, signaled the Tundra to stop by activating his vehicle’s blue lights, and the Tundra pulled over on the side of the entrance ramp to Interstate 85. The officer got out of his vehicle, walked to the passenger-side window of the Tundra, knocked on the window, and the Tundra immediately took off at a high rate of speed up the ramp onto Interstate 85, then took the next exit off the interstate with the officer in pursuit with blue lights still signaling the Tundra to stop. The officer pursued the Tundra at speeds of over 100 miles per hour in a 45 mile per hour speed zone while observing the driver of the Tundra run a red light and swerve in and out of the proper lane of traffic. The officer was finally able to stop the Tundra with a PIT maneuver at which point the driver of the Tundra, later identified as Jenkins, left the Tundra and fled from the officer on foot. While Jenkins was running from the officer and ignoring the officer’s commands to stop, the officer saw that he had a white bag in his hand. The officer tackled Jenkins, arrested him, and recovered the white bag which the stipulated evidence showed contained over 900 grams of cocaine with a purity of over 67 percent.[ii]
Jenkins filed a pre-trial motion to suppress and alleged that the trooper did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to initiate a traffic stop and, as such, the evidence was obtained as the product of an unlawful seizure under the Fourth Amendment and should be suppressed. The trial court, without identifying the specific facts upon which it based its opinion, denied the motion to suppress. Jenkins was convicted of state drug charges in addition to fleeing and obstruction of a law enforcement officer at a bench trial. He then appealed the denial of his motion to suppress to the Court of Appeals of Georgia.
The issue on appeal was whether an illegal seizure occurred when the trooper initiated and conducted the first traffic stop of Jenkins from which Jenkins fled after a brief stop?
The court of appeals first explained the law related to this issue and stated
The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. When a police officer makes a routine stop of a vehicle based on alleged probable cause or reasonable suspicion for the existence of a traffic code violation, the driver of the vehicle (and any passenger) detained during the stop is considered seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and has standing to challenge the seizure as unreasonable. Vansant v. State, 264 Ga. 319, 320 (443 SE2d 474) (1994); Whren v. United States, 517 U. S. 806, 809-810 (116 SCt 1769, 135 LE2d 89) (1996); United States v. Roberson, 6 F3d 1088, 1091 (5th Cir. 1993). But “under the Fourth Amendment, a seizure occurs only when the officer, by means of physical force or show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a citizen.” State v. Walker, 295 Ga. 888, 890 (764 SE2d 804) (2014) (citation and punctuation omitted). “[A]bsent physical force, for an encounter with a police officer to be considered a seizure under the Fourth Amendment, there must be submission to the assertion of authority.” Id. at 891 (citation and punctuation omitted; emphasis in original). “A police officer may make a seizure by a show of authority and without the use of physical force, but there is no seizure without actual submission; otherwise, there is at most an attempted seizure, so far as the Fourth Amendment is concerned.” Brendlin v. California, 551 U. S. 249, 254 (127 SCt 2400, 168 LE2d 132) (2007).[iii] [emphasis added]
The court of appeals then applied the law above to the facts of Jenkins’ case. The court noted that it was not necessary to determine whether or not the trooper had probable cause or reasonable suspicion of any traffic violations for the initial stop based upon the specific, undisputable facts of Jenkins’ case. The court observed that the trooper initiated the traffic stop and Jenkins initially stopped. Then the trooper approached Jenkins’ vehicle on foot and knocked on his window. Jenkins then fled in vehicle. The court of appeals held that, based upon these undisputable facts, verified by the troopers in-car camera, Jenkins never actually submitted to the trooper’s authority such that a “seizure” under the Fourth Amendment occurred. Further, the trooper merely knocked on Jenkins window; he did not make physical contact or conduct a physical seizure on this first encounter. The court of appeals stated
There was no physical contact between Jenkins (or Jenkins’s passenger) and the officer before Jenkins fled the stop in the Tundra. On these facts, Jenkins’s temporary stop of the Tundra in response to the officer’s blue lights was a ruse to aid his evasion of the stop and not a submission to the officer’s show of authority. There was no seizure.[iv] [emphasis added]
Further, the court noted that after Jenkins fled, the trooper observed him commit “speeding, running a red light, and improper lane usage” in violation of Georgia law. This provided a basis for the final traffic stop, which was a lawful seizure, when the trooper executed a PIT maneuver to stop Jenkins.
In conclusion, the court of appeals held that the first stop was not a seizure because Jenkins did not submit to the stop and the second stop was lawful because the trooper observed Jenkins commit several traffic violations before he physically seized him with a PIT maneuver. Therefore, the court affirmed the denial of the motion to suppress.
[i] A18A0123 (Ga. App. Decided April 25, 2018)