Illinois v. Wardlow

528 U.S. 119 (2000)

A 2000 United States Supreme Court opinion in which the Court held that, although an individual’s mere presence in an area known for high criminal activity does not provide the police reasonable suspicion to perform a stop and frisk, the presence coupled with other actions of the individual (e.g., fleeing upon seeing the officers) can support reasonable suspicion for an investigative stop and frisk.

Two officers observed Defendant holding an opaque bag and standing in an area known for heavy drug trafficking.  After seeing the officers, Defendant fled the scene.  The officers stopped him and performed a “stop-and-frisk.”  The officers felt a gun-like object in the bag Defendant was holding and found a gun in that bag.  Defendant was convicted of unlawful use of a weapon by a felon.

The Supreme Court held that the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk the Defendant.  The Court reasoned:

An individual’s presence in area of expected criminal activity, standing alone, is not enough to support reasonable, particularized suspicion that person is committing a crime . . . But officers are not required to ignore relevant characteristics of location in determining whether circumstances are sufficiently suspicious to warrant further investigation . . . In this case . . . it was not merely respondent’s presence in an area of heavy narcotics that aroused the officers’ suspicion, but his unprovoked flight upon noticing the police.  Our cases have also recognized that nervous, evasive behavior is a pertinent factor in determining reasonable suspicion . . . Thus, the determination of reasonable suspicion must be based on commonsense judgments and inferences about human behavior . . . Flight, by its very nature, is not ‘going about one’s business;’ in fact it is just the opposite.

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