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Pretext Seizures: The Constitutional Question

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 64 Issue: 7 Dated: (July 1995) Pages: 28-32
K A Crawford
Date Published
5 pages
This article discusses the nature of pretext seizures, a defense technique which alleges that a seizure is illegal if the police officer has an ulterior motive and uses the seizure as a pretext for further investigation.
The subjective approach to pretext seizures, based on the ruling in State v. Blair, focused exclusively on the police officer's state of mind at the time of the seizure. If a seizure on a relatively minor violation was motivated by the officer's wish to investigate a more serious offense, the search would be found illegal. That approach seems to have been supplanted by the objective approach, in which appellate courts confronted with defense claims of improper pretext seizures evaluate the officer's actions on the basis of objective reasonableness. Unfortunately, courts do not always agree on what makes a seizure objectively reasonable. Law enforcement agencies can be prepared to meet the pretext challenge by keeping accurate, detailed records of the number and types of seizures made. These records would prove that officers follow established procedures, not ulterior motives, in instigating seizures. 23 notes