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Flight from crashed car created probable cause for arrest

The court rules a suspect effectively resisted arrest by fleeing

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This article was featured in Lexipol’s Xiphos newsletter, a monthly legal-focused law enforcement newsletter authored by Ken Wallentine. Subscriptions are free for public safety officers, educators and public attorneys. Subscribe here!

United States v. Nyah, 2022 WL 1695558 (8th Cir. 2022)

Officer Anderson clocked a car going almost 20 m.p.h. over the speed limit and tried to initiate a stop. The driver ignored the flashing lights and continued driving, reaching the freeway and fleeing at over 100 m.p.h. The fleeing car eventually crashed. Officer Anderson then saw two suspects, one of whom was Meamen Nyah (the passenger), running away from the crashed car in different directions. Officer Anderson pursued Nyah, not knowing he was the passenger rather than the driver.

Officer Anderson shouted for Nyah to stop and warned him that he would use a TASER device. Nyah ran behind a house. Officer Anderson deployed his TASER, striking Nyah, who fell to the ground but quickly jumped back up, picked up a gun from the ground and aimed it at Officer Anderson. Officer Anderson then shot Nyah. Nyah recovered and was charged with possession of a firearm by a convicted felon.

The trial court denied Nyah’s motion to suppress any evidence seized after the TASER deployment, and a jury ultimately convicted him. Nyah appealed, arguing the officer’s use of the TASER device effected a warrantless arrest without probable cause.

The appellate court agreed that Nyah had been arrested. The court cited the recent Supreme Court ruling in Torres v. Madrid (141 S. Ct. 989 (2021)), in which the Court held that “the application of physical force to the body of a person with intent to restrain is a seizure even if the person does not submit and is not subdued.” Nonetheless, Officer Anderson had probable cause to arrest Nyah based on the pursuit, crash and Nyah’s flight from the crash despite Officer Anderson’s commands to stop.

The court held that Officer Anderson reasonably believed Nyah was the driver. Nyah effectively resisted arrest by fleeing: “We have consistently held that a defendant’s response to an arrest or Terry stop may constitute independent grounds for arrest.” The appellate court affirmed Nyah’s conviction.

Ken Wallentine is the chief of the West Jordan (Utah) Police Department and former chief of law enforcement for the Utah Attorney General. He has served over four decades in public safety, is a legal expert and editor of Xiphos, a monthly national criminal procedure newsletter. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for the Prevention of In-Custody Death and serves as a use of force consultant in state and federal criminal and civil litigation across the nation.