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If a seizure occurs, courts ask whether the stop was based on an officer's reasonable suspicion that the person was committing, had committed, or was about to commit a crime. That suspicion must be grounded in specific, articulable facts and reasonable inferences drawn therefrom rather than on a hunch. The essence of the reasonable suspicion inquiry is whether the police have an individualized suspicion that the person seized is the perpetrator of the suspected crime.
The victim reported that when he opened his bedroom door, he saw a black male wearing a “red hoodie” jumping out of the window. When the victim looked out the window, he saw two other black males, one wearing a “black hoodie,” and the other wearing “dark clothing.” The victim saw the three males run down Hutchings Street, but he could only guess which direction they took thereafter. The victim reported the incident to the police, who, for the next fifteen minutes or so, drove a four to five block radius around the house, searching for persons fitting the suspects’ descriptions. While on Martin Luther King Boulevard, the officer saw two black males, one of whom was the defendant, both wearing dark clothing, walking by some basketball courts near a park. One male wore a dark-colored “hoodie.” When the officer spotted defendant and his companion, the officer had a hunch that they might have been involved in the breaking and entering of the victim’s home. After pursuing the defendant, who refused to stop walking notwithstanding the officer’s orders, the officer arrested and searched the defendant. Minutes after the arrest, police recovered a Walther .22 caliber firearm at the place where the defendant was found. When asked if he had a license to carry a firearm, the defendant replied that he did not. Defendant was then charged with and convicted of unlawful possession of a firearm. Prior to trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress the firearm and statements made after his arrest, arguing that the police lacked reasonable suspicion for the stop. The judge who heard the motion denied it, ruling that, at the time of the stop, the police had reasonable suspicion that the defendant was one of the perpetrators of the breaking and entering. The defendant appealed, claiming error in the denial of the motion to suppress. The Appeals Court affirmed. The defendant applied for further appellate review.
Did the police lack reasonable suspicion for the stop, thereby warranting the grant of defendant’s motion to suppress the firearm and statements made after his arrest?
The Court held that the police lacked reasonable suspicion for an investigatory stop, as the victim only provided a very general description of the perpetrator and his accomplices, as three black males, two wearing dark clothing and one wearing a red hoodie, defendant was only with one other person when stopped, and defendant was stopped one mile from the scene of the crime about 25 minutes after the victim's call to police and the direction of the perpetrator's path of flight was mere conjecture. Because the police lacked reasonable suspicion for an investigatory stop, the trial court erred in denying defendant's motion to suppress.