Immigration Lawyers New York



Searches and Seizures: Grounds for a Search

Can a police officer stop a passer-by who didn't do anything wrong? What if a cop just wants to ask a few questions? Does every stop rise to a level of a seizure of a person? Can an officer pat a person down to make sure he or she isn't carrying any weapons, even if there is no probable cause that a crime is being committed? What level of suspicion is required for an officer to detain somebody?

This section contain a collection of opinion excerpts that grapple with these and other issues relating to the grounds for a search or a seizure.

Court Opinions on the Topic:

United States v. Johns Et Al. (1985)
United States v. Sokolow (1989)
Whren v. United States (1996)
Illinois v. Wardlow (2000)
United States v. Arvizu (2002)


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Illinois v. Wardlow (2000)
Opinion by: REHNQUIST
An individual's presence in an area of expected criminal activity, standing alone, is not enough to support a reasonable, particularized suspicion that the person is committing a crime. Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 61 L. Ed. 2d 357, 99 S. Ct. 2637 (1979). But officers are not required to ignore the relevant characteristics of a location in determining whether the circumstances are sufficiently suspicious to warrant further investigation. Accordingly, we have previously noted the fact that the stop occurred in a "high crime area" among the relevant contextual considerations in a Terry analysis.

[...]

Illinois v. Wardlow (2000)
JUSTICE STEVENS, with whom JUSTICE SOUTER, JUSTICE GINSBURG, and JUSTICE BREYER join, concurring in part and dissenting in part:
Among some citizens, particularly minorities and those residing in high crime areas, there is also the possibility that the fleeing person is entirely innocent, but, with or without justification, believes that contact with the police can itself be dangerous, apart from any criminal activity associated with the officer's sudden presence. For such a person, unprovoked flight is neither "aberrant" nor "abnormal." Moreover, these concerns and fears are known to the police officers themselves, and are validated by law enforcement investigations into their own practices. Accordingly, the evidence supporting the reasonableness of these beliefs is too pervasive to be dismissed as random or rare, and too persuasive to be disparaged as inconclusive or insufficient.

[...]

Illinois v. Wardlow (2000)
JUSTICE STEVENS, with whom JUSTICE SOUTER, JUSTICE GINSBURG, and JUSTICE BREYER join, concurring in part and dissenting in part:
The State, along with the majority of the Court, relies as well on the assumption that this flight occurred in a high crime area. Even if that assumption is accurate, it is insufficient because even in a high crime neighborhood unprovoked flight does not invariably lead to reasonable suspicion. On the contrary, because many factors providing innocent motivations for unprovoked flight are concentrated in high crime areas, the character of the neighborhood arguably makes an inference of guilt less appropriate, rather than more so. Like unprovoked flight itself, presence in a high crime neighborhood is a fact too generic and susceptible to innocent explanation to satisfy the reasonable suspicion inquiry.

[...]

California v. Hodari D. (1991)
The Honorable Justice Stevens, with whom Justice Marshall joins, dissenting:
In cases within this new subcategory, there will be a period of time during which the citizen's liberty has been restrained, but he or she has not yet completely submitted to the show of force. [...] In an airport setting, may a drug enforcement agent now approach a group of passengers with his gun drawn, announce a "baggage search," and rely on the passengers' reactions to justify his investigative stops? The holding of today's majority fails to recognize the coercive and intimidating nature of such behavior and creates a rule that may allow such behavior to go unchecked.

[...]

United States v. Arvizu (2002)
Opinion by: REHNQUIST
When discussing how reviewing courts should make reasonable-suspicion determinations, we have said repeatedly that they must look at the "totality of the circumstances" of each case to see whether the detaining officer has a "particularized and objective basis" for suspecting legal wrongdoing. [...] A determination that reasonable suspicion exists, however, need not rule out the possibility of innocent conduct.

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