Fourth Amendment

Police Lights Make a Traffic Stop Involuntary, Says a Georgia Court

So prosecutors can't pretend it's a casual encounter


When a police officer turns on his flashing blue lights and forces a motorist to stop, it is not a "voluntary" encounter, Georgia's Court of Appeals ruled last Wednesday. Jonathon Dryer found this out when he tried to drive his red Mercury Sable out of the parking lot of a local country club on April 4, 2010 at around 11pm. Because of the late hour, a local police officer had a hunch and turned on his blue lights before the Sable could reach the exit. Dryer stopped his car and the officer approached.

When asked what he was doing, Dryer explained that he had just used the restroom in a building near the parking lot. The officer smelled marijuana and asked for permission to search the Mercury. Dryer refused and a drug dog was sent to the scene, finding less than 2.5 ounces worth of marijuana—mostly stems and seeds. A trial judge rejected Dryer's motion to suppress the evidence, ruling the stop was a "first tier" or voluntary encounter that did not require the police to have reasonable suspicion that a crime was being committed.