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Brief Fact Summary.
A police officer, without any knowledge an individual was engaged in any legality, requested that the individual stop in an ally because he “looked suspicious”. The individual refused to identify himself.
Two police officers observed the Appellant and another man walking in opposite directions from one another in an alley. The officers believed the two men had met or were going to meet, but for seeing the police car the officers were riding in. One of the police officers asked the Appellant to (i) identify himself and (ii) what he was doing there. The officer testified that the Appellant “looked suspicious and we had never seen that subject in that area before.” The area where the stop was made has a high incidence of drug traffic. The officers did not “claim to suspect appellant of any specific misconduct, nor did they have any reason to believe that he was armed.”
The Appellant refused to identify himself and objected to the fact that he was stopped. One of the officers replied that the Appellant was in a high drug area. The officer then “frisked” the Appellant and did not find any contraband. The Appellant continued to refuse to identify himself and was arrested for violating “Tex. Penal Code Ann., Tit. 8, 38.02 (a) (1974), which makes it a criminal act for a person to refuse to give his name and address to an officer ‘who has lawfully stopped him and requested the information.’ ” The Appellant was convicted in Municipal Court and fined and ordered to pay court costs. Thereafter, he exercised his right to have a trial de novo in the El Paso County Court. The court convicted the Appellant of violating the statute.
“[W]hether appellant was validly convicted for refusing to comply with a policeman’s demand that he identify himself pursuant to a provision of the Texas Penal Code which makes it a crime to refuse such identification on request[?]”
The majority first observed “[w]hen the officers detained appellant for the purpose of requiring him to identify himself, they performed a seizure of his person subject to the requirements of the Fourth Amendment.” Further, “[t]he reasonableness of seizures that are less intrusive than a traditional arrest, depends ‘on a balance between the public interest and the individual’s right to personal security free from arbitrary interference by law officers.’ ”
The Supreme Court has recognized that the “Fourth Amendment requires that a seizure must be based on specific, objective facts indicating that society’s legitimate interests require the seizure of the particular individual, or that the seizure must be carried out pursuant to a plan embodying explicit, neutral limitations on the conduct of individual officers.” Officers have been required to have “reasonable suspicion, based on objective facts, that the individual is involved in criminal activity.”
“The flaw in the State’s case is that none of the circumstances preceding the officers’ detention of appellant justified a reasonable suspicion that he was involved in criminal conduct.”
“The fact that appellant was in a neighborhood frequented by drug users, standing alone, is not a basis for concluding that appellant himself was engaged in criminal conduct. In short, the appellant’s activity was no different from the activity of other pedestrians in that neighborhood. When pressed, [one of the officers] acknowledged that the only reason he stopped appellant was to ascertain his identity. The record suggests an understandable desire to assert a police presence; however, that purpose does not negate Fourth Amendment guarantees.”
It is interesting to read this case along side Terry v. Ohio, which is the Supreme Court of the United States’ seminal decision on the stop and frisk doctrine.