UPDATES & ANALYSIS

11.22

Police lights = Fourth Amendment seizure? Maybe

by Ryan Leemkuil | November 22, 2016

By Ryan Leemkuil

Would you feel free to drive away if a police officer pulled behind your parked car and turned on his cruiser’s emergency lights?  Variants of this question were recently before the Iowa Supreme Court, the Eighth Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court.  So what’d they say?  Does an officer’s use of emergency lights constitute a seizure under the Fourth Amendment?

– Iowa Supreme Court: Yes! At least when coupled with other authoritative acts.  Emergency lights aren’t “per se coercive,” but they at least “imply a police command to stop and remain.”  So when you use the lights, block an exit, and tell someone to “step down here and talk to me,” that’s a seizure

– Eighth Circuit: No! At least if the officer keeps the lights turned down to the “wig wag” setting and doesn’t crank it up to 11 with the “full light bar.”

– U.S. Supreme Court: We don’t know. It denied this cert petition, which noted a split of authority on the issue.

Next time you see those wig-wag lights behind you, keep driving at your own risk. 

*Ryan Leemkuil is legal counsel at Fareway  Stores and before that was an attorney at Nyemaster Goode.

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