What makes our society safe (police) and free (doing what you want) is the delicate balance of power created by the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution. For Hoosiers, there is also a balance of power created by Article 1, Section 11 of the Indiana Constitution.
A topic not well understood but in the daily news is when the police act (or fail to act). For police and citizens there is no agreement in any given case, but do you know the law?
This blog post explores when police may “stop” a person on the street or public place. This is known as a Terry stop and depends on objective facts. Specifically, a police officer may briefly detain an individual if he or she has “reasonable suspicion” that criminal activity is afoot. The question is how would you define “reasonable suspicion”?
The technical or legal answer is “reasonable suspicion” exists where the facts are known to the police officer and “reasonable inferences” would cause an “ordinarily prudent person” to believe criminal activity is or is about to occur. The two quoted phrases are key for you to understand to understand when a police officer may conduct a stop.
A “reasonable inference”, for example, might be if a person is standing still outside and you look from a window and see him or her sweating, it is an inference it is hot outside. The “ordinarily prudent person” is one who is the average or normal within our societal norms. A person who has been brutally victimized may not be the “ordinarily prudent person” to assess whether a crime is or is about to occur. Equally, an “ordinarily prudent person” would necessarily not be a person who lives in the safest city in America and does not watch the news. It is an ordinary person exposed to our society.
In a recent case decided by the Indiana Supreme Court1 involving applying the abstract concepts, within the politically sensitive legal issue of a firearm, the high court reversed a teenager’s handgun conviction based on the police not having reasonable suspicion to stop the teen. The remedy is suppression of the handgun he was found to possess and prohibition of the police officer’s testimony so he could not be retried.
The facts known to the officers at the time they stopped the teen, Jordan Jacobs, were as follows: Jacobs was in an Indianapolis park with a red T-shirt over his shoulder and hanging out with a few people. Days earlier, there were reports of shots fired by teens wearing red clothing, a reputed gang color. Officer Terry Smith watched the group and saw Jacobs and another person leave the area when a park ranger came on patrol.
The two later returned, and Smith approached Jacobs. Jacobs quickly walked away but stopped when told to do so. He was found with a handgun and convicted of misdemeanor possession of a handgun without a license; but at trial, he objected to the officer’s testimony and admission of the handgun as the stop being made was without reasonable suspicion.
The Supreme Court agreed, noting even though Jacobs had a red T-shirt draped on his shoulder, which could give rise that he was involved with a gang, police had no reasonable suspicion that Jacobs’ specifically was involved in any way with the earlier shooting. Being involved in a gang is not specifically illegal.
Thus, the facts do matter in criminal cases where there is a Terry stop involved. Criminal cases can become exceedingly complex and reach the very depths of the constitution and define the right between police power and freedom to act. The careful analysis of the facts may mean the difference between a conviction; chose your criminal defense and appellate counsel carefully.
This blog post was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle criminal defense cases throughout the State of Indiana, with particular interests in firearms cases. This blog post is written for general educational purposes only and is not a solicitation for representation nor is it legal advice. It is an advertisement.