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Law School Case Brief

Michigan v. Chesternut - 486 U.S. 567, 108 S. Ct. 1975 (1988)


The police can be said to have seized an individual only if, in view of all of the circumstances surrounding the incident, a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave.


As a marked police car in which several police officers were riding approached a street corner in Detroit, Michigan, a man standing at the corner turned and began to run. The police officer driving the car followed the man around the corner, briefly accelerating to catch up with him, and then drove alongside him for a short distance. While the car was alongside, the officers observed the man discard a number of packets from one of his pockets. One of the police officers got out of the car to examine the packets, which were found to contain pills, and the man shortly stopped running. Suspecting that the pills were illegal drugs, as was later proven to be the case, the police officer arrested the man. A subsequent search of the man at the stationhouse turned up additional illegal drugs.

The man was charged with knowingly and intentionally possessing the drugs in violation of Michigan law. At a preliminary hearing before a magistrate, the man moved to dismiss the charges on the ground that the conduct of the police prior to his disposal of the packets constituted an unlawful seizure of his person within the meaning of the Federal Constitution's Fourth Amendment. The magistrate granted the motion and dismissed the complaint, ruling that the police's pursuit implicated Fourth Amendment protections and could not be justified under the circumstances of the case. The Michigan trial court upheld the magistrate's order of dismissal, and the Court of Appeals of Michigan affirmed.


Did the police  officers' pursuit of the respondent constitute a seizure under U.S. Const. amend. IV protections?




The United States Supreme Court held that under the circumstances, the conduct of the police officers in pursuing the man did not amount to a seizure within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, since such conduct would not have communicated to a reasonable person that he was not at liberty to ignore the presence of the police and go about his business. Thus, the Court held that the charges the man were improperly dismissed.

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