An officer may, consistent with the U.S. Const. amend. IV, conduct a brief, investigatory stop when the officer has a reasonable, articulable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. While reasonable suspicion is a less demanding standard than probable cause and requires a showing considerably less than preponderance of the evidence, the U.S. Const. amend. IV requires at least a minimal level of objective justification for making the stop. The officer must be able to articulate more than an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch of criminal activity.
Defendant fled upon seeing police officers patrolling an area known for heavy narcotics trafficking. Two of the officers caught up with him, and conducted a protective pat-down search for weapons. Defendant was arrested when officers discovered a .38-caliber handgun. The trial court denied defendant's motion to suppress, but the appellate court reversed. The state supreme court agreed, concluding that sudden flight in a high crime area did not create a reasonable suspicion justifying a Terry stop.
Does a sudden flight in a high crime area create a reasonable suspicion which can justify a Terry stop?
The Court found that nervous, evasive behavior was a pertinent factor in determining reasonable suspicion for a Terry stop, and that headlong flight was the consummate act of evasion. The Court found that the determination of reasonable suspicion had to be based on common sense judgments and inferences about human behavior, and that officers were justified in suspecting that defendant was involved in criminal activity based on his presence in an area of heavy narcotics trafficking and his unprovoked flight upon noticing the police. The Court concluded that defendant's presence in an area of heavy narcotics trafficking and his unprovoked flight upon noticing police created a reasonable suspicion justifying a Terry stop.