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The Fourth Amendment applies to a seizure, including a brief investigatory stop as in the stop of a vehicle or a vessel. In some circumstances an officer may detain a suspect briefly for questioning although he does not have probable cause to believe that the suspect is involved in criminal activity, as is required for a traditional arrest. An investigatory stop must be justified by some objective manifestation that the person stopped is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity, or there must be reasonable grounds to believe that the person is wanted for past criminal conduct. Based on the totality of the circumstances the whole picture the detaining officers must have a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity. To determine whether to make an investigatory stop, the totality of circumstances may include the officer's objective observations, information from police reports, and consideration of the modes or patterns of operations of certain kinds of lawbreakers.
Four game agents of the state Wildlife and Fisheries Commission converged on Stelly's Landing and Little Prairie Landing in Vermilion Parish to watch for game violators. The agents were acting on a tip that a duck hunter would be transporting a large quantity of illegally taken ducks via one of the landings. Two agents saw plaintiff hunters approach the landing in a mudboat towing a flatboat. The flatboat contained equipment and supplies. A large number of slain ducks and a large ice chest were fully visible on the bow and deck of the mudboat. Several daily bag limits of the ducks were untagged. Plaintiff hunters were detained for approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour and were issued citations for violating the federal game law and regulations by their failure to properly tag ducks killed the previous day. Subsequently, plaintiff hunters filed a civil damage suit against the State of Louisiana and its game agents, alleging that game agents violated their Fourth Amendment rights by stopping them and detaining them for questioning without having probable cause to believe that they had violated any law. The district court entered a judgment for the hunters and the Court of Appeal, Third Circuit (Louisiana) affirmed but vacated punitive damages.
Under the circumstances, were the plaintiffs’ Fourth Amendment rights violated?
The Court found that the hunters were not deprived of any constitutional right, privilege or immunity by making an investigatory stop. Consequently, when the officers stopped the hunters for questioning, learned that they had ducks in the ice chest that had been taken the day before, and discovered ducks without tags, in violation of 50 C.F.R. § 20.36, they were aware of facts that would give a reasonable officer probable cause to believe that the hunters had violated the regulation. According to the Court, even if some right had been violated, the game agents were entitled to qualified immunity.