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Law School Case Brief

Harris v. State - 806 A.2d 119 (Del. 2002)


Police suspicion of a person's involvement in criminal activity is reasonable if it is based on the detaining officer's ability to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the intrusion. The reasonable suspicion standard is not readily, or even usefully, reduced to a neat set of legal rules and is somewhat abstract. Thus, a finding of reasonable suspicion depends on the concrete factual circumstances of individual cases. Reasonable suspicion also is a less demanding standard than probable cause and requires a showing considerably less than a preponderance of the evidence.


An officer was monitoring trains for drug couriers, and became suspicious of defendant, who allegedly fit a drug courier profile, and who looked over his shoulder three times. Police followed defendant down the platform exit steps into the station and observed the latter talking to another man and using a payphone. Police followed a car defendant entered, blocked it with their vehicles, stood with guns drawn, and shouted, "Police, put your hands up." A search of defendant's bag produced cocaine. Defendant was charged with possession cocaine with intent to deliver and trafficking in more than 100 grams of cocaine. Defendant moved to suppress the cocaine found in the backpack. After the suppression hearing, the Superior Court denied that motion. Eventually, defendant was convicted. On appeal, defendant contended that the police officers lacked the requisite justification to stop the vehicle in which he was riding and to search its occupants and contents. It is his position that the stop was unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and under Article I, Section 6 of the Delaware Constitution. Defendant argued that the stop constituted a full-blown search and seizure requiring probable cause and that the police did not have probable cause or even reasonable suspicion to stop him.


Did the police officers have probable cause or reasonable suspicion to stop defendant and search the contents of his bag?




The Court held that the circumstances of the case were insufficient to establish reasonable suspicion, where the officer never stated that defendant appeared nervous or concerned about evading detection. The officer never explained how defendant's behavior matched the characteristics of the police's drug courier profile. The officer had an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch rather than reasonable suspicion. As police lacked reasonable suspicion to stop defendant, they necessarily lacked probable cause to search his backpack.

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