Two things seem to be consistent these days – you can’t open up a news source without reading about the U.S. Supreme Court (aka – SCOTUS) and open up those same sources without finding people opining on police work. In both cases, one other thing is consistent – it seems that people are not reading the opinions and either does not know or will not acknowledge what SCOTUS actually wrote. An opinion from SCOTUS applies across the whole country.
“You can’t stop someone just for doing X.” If X is not a crime, the answer is maybe, maybe not. It depends on what the officer saw and how well he can explain why what he saw was concerning. Did the detective see evidence of subjects casing a business? Did he see that several times? Did those three individuals meet in a way that looked like they were conspiring, planning, and plotting? Did the officer have significant experience working in that area and investigating crimes like that? Well, Detective McFadden did.
Detective McFadden detained those three men and subsequently pat searched them. McFadden also explained that two of the three men had concealed firearms based on touch – before reaching into their clothes to retrieve them.
The standard for detention is reasonable suspicion, while an arrest requires probable cause. A reminder – reasonable suspicion to make the stop does not automatically mean you have enough for the frisk.
Case citation: Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)
You are just arriving at a location, a house in this case, to serve a search warrant. The resident is walking the steps, leaving when you get there. You detain him while asking that he assists you with entering the house. Once inside, you find drugs. Now you search the resident and find that he has drugs on him too. Was it a valid detention and search? Or a bad one? What did SCOTUS say based on the fact pattern in this case?
Justice Stevens wrote: “Because it was lawful to require the respondent to reenter and to remain in the house until evidence establishing probable cause to arrest him was found, his arrest and the search incident thereto were constitutionally permissible.”
Yes, this was a good detention and a good search.
Additionally, the opinion noted: “The risk of harm to both the police and the occupants is minimized if the officers routinely exercise unquestioned command of the situation.” That reads as if SCOTUS is giving officers permission to control the scene for the safety of all present. Maybe this is something else administrators need to communicate?
Case citation: Michigan v. Summers, 452 U.S. 692 (1981)
This case started with a vehicle staying at a light for quite a while before suddenly racing off.
Pretext stops -making a vehicle for one violation when the officer is looking for something more – are also getting air time. Various activists, elected bodies, and I’d venture some chiefs are like these are bad things. And there are claims they should be banned. Yet again, we ought to pay attention to a ruling from SCOTUS.
Whren was driving a truck that stopped at an intersection for a lengthy period before suddenly speeding away. Plainclothes detectives had watched the stop and the driving. Because of those events, they pulled over the truck – being concerned about the behavior because the neighborhood is a “high drug area.”
When they walked up to the vehicle, they saw Whren holding plastic baggies of rock cocaine in his hands. Whren was arrested and appealed the stop claiming the traffic violation was used as a pretext to pull him over and search him. That appeal, which went all the way to SCOTUS, asked if the officer’s intent should be considered when analyzing the reasonableness of the stop.
SCOTUS ruled that if the officer had probable cause to believe there was a vehicle code violation, the detention is valid regardless of the officer’s intent. As a result, this type of stop is objectively reasonable.
Case citation: Whren v. United States, 517 U.S. 806 (1996)
I’m not an attorney, I don’t play one on T.V., and I did not stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night. Everything above came from the SCOTUS decisions in these cases. Don’t take my word for it, though. Read these cases (plus others) and then talk to your legal advisor or prosecutors. Whether it is being as knowledgeable as possible when working the street and the road or refuting the bovine fecal matter spewed by activists – we all need to be as knowledgeable about case law as possible. The greater our actual knowledge, the more confident we can be in our decisions.