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Idaho Court: Feel Free to Ignore Cop Tapping on Window
Court of Appeals in Idaho insists drivers can ignore police officers who knock on their window.

Judge John M. Melanson
Idaho's Court of Appeals ruled last week that motorists should feel free to ignore any police officer who comes tapping on their window. A three-judge panel came to that conclusion after examining the case of Christopher Homer Randle who had been sitting with a female friend in his parked car in a parking lot on January 4, 2010 at around 11:30pm.

A police officer saw Randle's car that night and decided to investigate. He knocked on the window, and Randle opened the door. Randle had been drinking beers in the vehicle, with the engine on to stay warm in the cold night. Randle was convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol, a felony, even though he was not driving. Randle appealed, insisting the police officer had no probable cause to suspect him of wrong-doing when he approached and that a reasonable person would not assume he was free to drive off with a police officer knocking on his window. A three-judge panel disagreed, pointing out he could have easily left the scene.

"The evidence showed that Randle was not prevented from leaving the parking lot," Judge John M. Melanson wrote for the court. "The district court found that Randle could have backed up and driven away from the encounter without running over the officer because the officer was at Randle's driver's side window and the officer's vehicle was two car lengths behind Randle's."

Police officers are free to question pedestrians and motorists without probable cause, but this only applies to a voluntary conversation. A conversation lacks the character of being voluntary if the officer makes a show of force.

"By approaching Randle's vehicle in the parking lot and tapping on the window, the officer did not restrict Randle's liberty to ignore the officer's presence and go about his business," Melanson wrote. "We conclude that, when the officer parked behind Randle's vehicle, left the patrol car's headlights on, approached Randle's vehicle and knocked on the window, such conduct would not have communicated to a reasonable person that he or she was not at liberty to ignore the officer's presence and go about his or her business."

The appellate court refused to consider Randle's argument that he would have risked charges of resisting arrest or obstruction. Before rolling down the window, the motorist had no idea whether the officer actually had probable cause that a crime was being committed. Randle's attorney argued that the decision "encourages dangerous behavior."

A copy of the decision is available in a 250k PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Idaho v. Randle (Court of Appeals, State of Idaho, 2/6/2012)

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