Where police detained appellant while investigating a domestic assault, even assuming without deciding that she was arrested, the police had probable cause to do so upon information that she allegedly was the “primary aggressor.”
Her attack of a police officer who responded to the domestic assault cannot be excused as appellant’s attempt to resist an unlawful arrest.
Police responded to a 911 domestic assault call. Hernandez said appellant English hit her brother, Branch, with a bottle. Hernandez, to defend her brother, hit English with a flashlight.
When police arrived at the scene, English was walking on the road a short distance from the residence. She was holding a paper towel to her eyebrow and had blood on her chest. Deputy Camp confirmed English’s identity. English said she did not need medical help but Camp radioed for assistance.
Camp then “detained” English, stating that she allegedly was the “‘primary aggressor’ in the domestic incident.”
Camp searched and handcuffed English, put her in the police car and returned to the residence. Two other officers arrived. One of them, Hager, noticed that English had slipped out of the handcuffs. English assaulted him while he was putting them back on her. She was charged with assault and battery of a law enforcement officer.
In the trial court, English characterized the “detention” as a “de facto arrest” because she was handcuffed, searched, transported in a police car and later received Miranda warnings. English argued that she used reasonable force to resist an illegal arrest.
“The prosecution responded that English’s seizure was merely an investigatory detention until she was arrested for assaulting Hager. The circuit court agreed, finding that English had been ‘detained clearly for investigative purposes.’”
Best and narrowest grounds
“Both sides agree that the threshold question is whether English was detained or arrested when Camp handcuffed her, placed her in the backseat of his cruiser, and transported her to the scene of the reported assault on Branch. …
“We find it unnecessary to resolve whether English was detained or arrested, however, for even assuming that English’s detention amounted to an arrest, we conclude below that the arrest was supported by probable cause. Resolving this appeal on that basis is thus ‘the best and narrowest grounds’ for the decision. …
“‘While a person is entitled to use reasonable force to resist an unlawful arrest, he is not entitled to resist a lawful arrest.’ … Probable cause for a lawful arrest ‘exists when the facts and circumstances known to the officer are sufficient to warrant a person of reasonable caution to believe that an offense has been or is being committed.’”
Probable cause to arrest
“We find that Deputy Camp had probable cause to arrest English for the reported misdemeanor assault on Branch.”
When Camp found English, she “was walking along the snowy road, about a tenth of a mile away from the reported crime scene. English matched the suspect’s description and correctly identified herself. She was not dressed appropriately for the inclement weather.
“English had an injury to her head, consistent with Hernandez’s report that she had hit English with a flashlight to protect her brother after English reportedly hit him with a bottle.
“A reasonable officer could find from those facts ‘a probability or substantial chance,’ … that English had committed an assault and battery on Branch and was leaving the scene, thus allowing for English’s arrest[.]’”
Subjective judgment immaterial
“To be sure, Deputy Camp and Deputy Hager both testified that they had only ‘detained’ English, not arrested her. … But in examining whether a reasonable officer in Camp’s position had probable cause to arrest English for the reported assault and battery on Branch, the deputies’ explanation of what they subjectively thought at the time ‘does not affect our analysis.’ …
“[A]n ‘officer’s action is “reasonable” under the Fourth Amendment, regardless of the individual officer’s state of mind, as long as the circumstances, viewed objectively, justify the action.’ …
“‘So strong is this principle that, even when an officer’s testimony shows that he misjudged the legal basis for the stop, his subjective misjudgment does not undermine the objective validity of a stop that could be based on a wholly different legal basis.’ …
“Nor does it matter to the probable-cause analysis that it may well have been wiser for Deputy Camp to have more diligently investigated the assault and battery allegations before arresting English.
“For ‘[w]hile best practices may dictate that the police obtain both sides of a story where practicable, the law simply does not mandate such diligence. Once probable cause is established, an officer is under no duty to investigate further or to look for additional evidence which may exculpate the accused.’”
English v. Commonwealth, Record No. 0470-22-2, Feb. 21, 2023. CAV unpublished opinion (Raphael). From the Circuit Court of Spotsylvania County. (Rigual). Andrew J. Cornick for appellant. Rebecca M. Garcia, Jason S. Miyares for appellee. VLW 023-7-085, 11 pp.