Citation. 528 U.S. 119, 120 S. Ct. 673, 145 L. Ed. 2d 570 (2000)
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Brief Fact Summary.
An individual was arrested after fleeing from police officers in a known narcotics trafficking area.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
The arresting officer “was justified in suspecting that [the suspect] was involved in criminal activity, and, therefore in investigating further.”
The Respondent, Wardlow (the “Respondent”), fled from an area known for heavy narcotics trafficking after seeing police officers. The Respondent was caught by two officers and they conducted a protective pat down for weapons. The officers found a 38-caliber handgun and arrested the Respondent.
The Illinois trial court denied the Respondent’s motion to suppress, finding that the gun was recovered during a lawful stop and frisk. The Respondent was convicted of unlawful use of a weapon by a felon.
The Illinois Appellate Court reversed and found that the gun should have been suppressed because the arresting officer did not have a reasonable suspicion sufficient to justify a [Terry v. Ohio] stop.
The Illinois Supreme Court agreed and found that sudden flight in a high crime area does not create a reasonable suspicion justifying a [Terry] stop. The court found that based on [Florida v. Royer], flight may be an exercise of ones right “to go on one’s way”, and could not constitute reasonable suspicion. The court also found that flight plus a high crime area also were not sufficient.
Did the stop by the police officers violate the Constitution?
No. The majority first observed that the brief encounter in this case was governed by the analysis in [Terry], which concerned “reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity being “afoot.” Someone solely being in an area of high crime is not enough standing alone to support a reasonable particularized suspicion that the person is committing a crime. However, “officers are not required to ignore the relevant characteristics of a location in determining whether the circumstances are sufficiently suspicious to warrant further investigation.” It is one of the “relevant contextual considerations in a [Terry] analysis.”
Further, here, “it was not merely respondent’s presence in an area of heavy narcotics trafficking that aroused the officers’ suspicion but his unprovoked flight upon noticing the police.” Cases have held “that nervous, evasive behavior is a pertinent factor in determining reasonable suspicion.”
“Unprovoked flight is simply not a mere refusal to cooperate. Flight, by its very nature, is not ‘going about ones business’; in fact it is just the opposite.” Moreover, “[a]llowing officers confronted with such flight to stop the fugitive and investigate further is quite consistent with the individual’s right to go about his business or to stay put and remain silent in the face of police questioning.”
“In allowing [detentions] like the one in this case, [Terry] accepts the risk that officers may stop innocent people. Indeed the Fourth Amendment accepts the risk in connection with more drastic police action; persons arrested and detained on probable cause to believe they have committed a crime may turn out to be innocent.”
This case should be compared and contrasted with [Terry].