Agree to Disagree: Defining Submission to Police Authority

Issue

The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects against unwarranted searches and seizures, which begs the question—what exactly constitutes a seizure? In California v. Hodari D. (1991), the Supreme Court held that a “seizure” requires either physical force or submission to police authority. In the wake of this decision, circuit courts have struggled to define the phrase, “submission to police authority,” resulting in a split of authority. The emergent view in the Courts of Appeals, although admittedly uneven within the circuits, is that when a suspect does nearly anything more than pausing briefly, including any significant verbal engagement with the officer, that action is strong evidence of submission.” United States v. Camacho (1st Cir. 2011). Some courts have adopted this rather broad interpretation of the term, imparting a low standard for submission. Other courts have adopted a narrow view, requiring additional conduct to meet the standard.

The issue of defining submission is incredibly significant because of its impact on other aspects of a case. For example, whether or not a defendant is deemed to have submitted to police authority can determine what evidence may be presented at trial, which can significantly influence the outcome of a case. The Fourth Amendment serves to protect against unwarranted invasions of privacy by requiring probable cause. The Fourth Amendment “prohibition on unreasonable searches and seizures is enforced through the exclusionary rule, which excludes evidence seized in violation of the Fourth Amendment.” United States v. Camacho (1st Cir. 2011).

The Split

The following circuits have adopted the view that brief compliance followed by flight does not constitute submission.

  • Second Circuit: In United States v. Huertas (2d Cir. 2017), the court held that, in dealing with the police, conduct that amounts to evasion cannot be considered submission.
  • Third Circuit: In direct contradiction with the Tenth Circuit’s ruling, the court in United States v. Valentine (3d Cir. 2000) held that a brief pause does not make for a submission, and therefore the defendant in this case was not seized within the Fourth Amendment meaning.
  • Ninth Circuit: In United States v. Hernandez (9th Cir. 1994), the court rejected the defendant’s argument that he was “seized” because he briefly submitted to the police officer’s show of authority before fleeing. The court here requires a discernible showing of compliance to constitute submission:

“We decline to adopt a rule whereby momentary hesitation and direct eye contact prior to flight constitute submission to a show of authority. Such a rule would encourage suspects to flee after the slightest contact with an officer in order to discard evidence, and yet still maintain Fourth Amendment protections.”

The following circuits have adopted the view that brief compliance followed by flight does constitute submission.

  • First Circuit: In United States v. Camacho (1st Cir. 2011), the court held that once a defendant responds to questions posed by the police, he or she has submitted to police authority.
  • Tenth Circuit: In United States v. Morgan (10th Cir. 1991), the court held that even the slightest form of compliance, in this case, a momentary hesitation, is enough to constitute submission. The court explains its reasoning as follows:

“Here, the intrusion on Mr. Morgan in regard to the initial attempted questioning by Officer Eubanks and the subsequent exchange between the two was minimal. However, since Officer Eubanks had followed the car in which Defendant was a passenger for several blocks with his red lights flashing; since Officer Eubanks exited from a marked police car, in uniform, and asked the Defendant to hold up; and since Defendant, at least momentarily, yielded to the Officer’s apparent show of authority, we find Mr. Morgan was seized for purposes of the Fourth Amendment during the initial portion of the encounter.”

  • D.C. Circuit: In United States v. Brodie (D.C. Cir. 2014), the court ruled that when a defendant complies with an officer’s orders by engaging in overt acts, such as putting one’s hands on the car, the defendant has submitted to police authority.

Looking Forward

Although the Supreme Court expressly outlined the requirements for a “seizure” in California v. Hodari D. (1991), it still left some questions unanswered—circuit courts were tasked with the responsibility of defining “submission to police authority,” and conflicting rulings resulted. Branden Huertas submitted a petition for writ of certiorari to the Supreme Court in December 2017, in hopes of appealing the Second Circuit’s decision in United States v. Huertas (2017). In the petition, Huertas discusses the split among the lower courts and urges the Supreme Court to review the issue. In his petition for a writ of certiorari to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Huertas notes: “The conflict is widely recognized by courts and commentators. It also is deeply entrenched; the courts on either side of the split have acknowledged the contrary reasoning of their peers and have had multiple opportunities to reconsider their positions, but the conflict has persisted. Thus, only this Court can restore uniformity on this important question of Fourth Amendment law.” For further reading, see the petition for writ of certiorari: Huertas v. United States.

Waive after Waive: Can the Government Waive a Challenge to Fourth Amendment Standing?

Background: Not All Standing is Done on the Same Legs

The most familiar idea of “standing” is based in Article III and is about whether someone can participate in the case at all. However, the term “standing” has attached itself to a narrower issue within Fourth Amendment law, despite then-Justice Rehnquist’s misgivings in Rakas v. Illinois.

Fourth Amendment standing is shorthand for the requirement that in a motion to suppress evidence from an unconstitutional search and seizure, the defendant must show that the search violated the defendant’s own personal rights of privacy, liberty, or possession. A defendant lacks Fourth Amendment standing if they attempt to suppress evidence based on the violation of someone else’s rights, for example, when a search of a car one does not own uncovers a gun that one, likewise, cannot lay claim to—the move not permitted in Rakas.

It is the responsibility of the government to bring a challenge to a defendant’s Fourth Amendment standing, but what happens when it does not do so at the district level? Is it waived in any future proceedings?

The Split

Two circuits have held that the government does not waive Fourth Amendment standing issues if it fails to raise them in district court: the First Circuit and the Eighth Circuit. The Eighth Circuit case on point, United States v. Rodriguez-Arreola, clearly states that the government does not waive a lack of Fourth Amendment standing based on a previous case pertaining to Article III standing, surely causing Chief Justice Rehnquist to spin uncontrollably in his grave:

The government cannot waive Rodriguez’s lack of standing, and therefore any argument based on waiver must fail…(“[I]t is elementary that standing relates to the justiciability of a case and cannot be waived by the parties.”).

On the other hand, seven circuits hold that the government does in fact waive Fourth Amendment standing challenges if it fails to raise them in district court, though some circuits are more lenient than others. This majority position is rooted in the idea that just because the word “standing” is involved, it does not implicate Article III jurisdictional issues—it views Fourth Amendment standing as simply shorthand for the substance of the Fourth Amendment.

Most of these circuits (namely, the Third, Fifth, Seventh, Tenth, and Eleventh) hold that the government may not raise an issue of Fourth Amendment standing for the first time on appeal. If the government fails to challenge Fourth Amendment standing on the district level, it amounts to a complete concession on the issue by the government.

The Ninth Circuit, in United States v. Paopao, gives the government some wiggle room, allowing challenges to Fourth Amendment standing to be raised for the first time on appeal. It makes clear in United States v. Ewing, however, that failure to place a challenge to Fourth Amendment standing in the appellate brief only to bring it up at oral argument is not a valid move, and amounts to a waiver of the challenge.

The latest circuit to join the waive-friendly bunch is the Sixth. United States v. Noble leans toward the Ninth Circuit’s holding, though it is not so lenient. The Sixth Circuit first criticizes the approach of the First and Eighth Circuits, noting:

“Fourth Amendment standing is akin to an element of a claim and does not sound in Article III. The government, like other litigants, therefore, can forfeit or waive an argument that defendants lack Fourth Amendment standing.”

Later, the Sixth Circuit lays out its own approach to waivability:

“[W]e would allow the government to raise an objection to a defendant’s Fourth Amendment standing for the first time on appeal, provided that the government can show that the defendant plainly lacked standing and that our failure to recognize it would “seriously affect…the fairness, integrity or public reputation of judicial proceedings.” …However, if the government fails to raise the issue in its opening brief on appeal, then the objection is waived.”

Looking Forward

While the Supreme Court has released opinions concerning Fourth Amendment standing, it has not explicitly stated whether the government waives the issue if it fails to bring it up in district court. Considering the precedent of Rakas, if the right mix of criminal procedures twists and turns its way up to the highest Court, it would not be unreasonable to wager on the path chosen by most circuits today. For what it’s worth, however, this blogger would like to see a reexamination of the general idea that a defendant cannot acquire Fourth Amendment standing without an interest in the property searched, especially when that unconstitutional search specifically targeted that defendant.