Court Rules on Detentions vs. Consensual Encounters Amid Implicit Bias Concerns


A Fourth Amendment “seizure” of a person by a police officer occurs if, in view of the surrounding circumstances, a reasonable person would not believe that he or she is free to leave. A detention requires at the very least a reasonable suspicion to believe the person is involved in criminal activity


Shortly before midnight on July 12, 2021, two Los Angeles Police Department patrol officers, while driving down 109th Street between Avalon and San Pedro, observed a lone Black male sitting in a parked expensive looking Range Rover or Land Rover. Both officers immediately noticed the occupant, later determined to be the defendant, Albert Jackson, was sitting “kind of awkwardly” — “kind of halfway in, halfway out of the driver’s seat” — and was wearing a “big bulky jacket.” The officers found this to be unusual in that they thought it was warm (later testimony showed it was in the mid to low 60s) and humid out. One of the officers also testified that based upon his training and experience, and his “knowledge of the area, that specific block” (implying, perhaps, that it was a “high crime area”), the time of night, that the defendant was sitting in “a high-end car, like, a really nice Range Rover,” was all suspicious to him.  

The officers therefore stopped their car next to Jackson’s, and in a position to where it would have been difficult for Jackson to get out of his car — “close enough so (that Jackson) would have to squeeze to get out.” With both officers shining their respective flashlights on an “uncomfortable and kind of nervous” Jackson, one officer contacted him while the other walked around to the passenger side. Both officers testified that despite their suspicions, Jackson was free to leave had he chosen to do so. However, within 10 seconds of initiating the contact, one of the officers “spied a gun” in Jackson’s pocket. Jackson was arrested and charged in state court with being a felon in possession of a firearm. 

The defense counsel argued that the gun had been discovered during Jackson’s unlawful detention in what she referred to as a “textbook example of law enforcement hunch and conjecture with underpinnings of racial discrimination.” Jackson’s motion to suppress, however, was denied by both the preliminary examination magistrate and later the trial court. Both courts ruled that Jackson had been “consensually encountered” only, making the discovery of the gun lawful. Pursuant to a plea agreement, Jackson pled no contest to a felon-in-possession charge. Sentenced to 16 months in prison, Jackson appealed.