6/6/2012Louisiana: Appeals Court Rules Gunpoint Traffic Stop Not an Arrest
Second-highest court in Louisiana finds blocking in a motorist with guns drawn does not constitute an arrest.
If police block in a car and approach with guns drawn, the driver should not assume that he is under arrest, the Louisiana's Court of Appeal ruled last Thursday. Though Robert C. Carter was anything but an ordinary motorist when he was pulled over at gunpoint, approval of the police techniques used apply have an impact on everyone who gets behind the wheel.
On June 8, 2010, a snitch had informed Jefferson Parish detectives that a black man "with dreads" would appear in a parking lot at Airline Drive and Labarre Road with a grey vehicle as part of a drug deal. When Carter drove up in a Pontiac matching this description, the officers moved their unmarked patrol cars in front and behind of Carter's vehicle and hopped out with their guns drawn. One of the plain clothes detective testified he did not remember if he ever identified himself as a police officer.
Carter panicked and reversed into the car of Sean Cursain, pushing it out of the way so he could escape. Cursain was about to fire his gun at Carter but stopped after he saw Carter's two-year-old son was in the back seat. Carter did not get far and was soon caught and charged with causing $1881 in damages to the unmarked police car. He was sentenced to ten years of hard labor, which was later upgraded to twenty years in light of his felony record.
The three-judge appellate panel considered the legal question of whether Carter was unlawfully arrested, which would have given him an affirmative defense to the criminal damage charge. No drugs were ever found on Carter. The court nonetheless decided police did nothing wrong.
"Under the facts of this case, we find that the officers had reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop and that the stop conducted in this case did not amount to an arrest," Judge Fredericka Homberg Wicker wrote. "The vast majority of courts have held that police actions in blocking a suspect's vehicle and approaching with weapons ready, and even drawn, does not constitute an arrest per se. An investigatory stop necessarily involves an element of force or duress and the temporary restraint of a person's freedom. There is the complete restriction of movement in an investigatory stop, but for a shorter period of time than an arrest."
The judges also ruled the twenty-year sentence was appropriate given the physical harm that could have been caused when Carter rammed Cursain's vehicle, explaining that none of Carter's attempts to explain his conduct were persuasive given his shady history.
A copy of the decision is available in a 1.5mb PDF file at the source link below.