A police officer cannot randomly stop people for questioning.
The simple act of walking away from a police officer is not sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion for a frisk or search.
An Officer’s Right to Perform a Stop and Frisk is Not Unlimited
The police may not like it when someone exercises their constitutional rights; however, walking away from the police is not a crime. In United States v. Beauchamp, No. 10-5102 (Oct. 25, 2011), the court ordered the suppression of physical evidence discovered when police officers illegally seized the defendant on the street and obtained his involuntary consent to search. The police initiated the seizure because when they approached the defendant, he “hurriedly walked away without making eye contact.” The officers deemed this conduct to be “suspicious.” The defendant was walking around a fence when a police officer again approached him and exited the patrol car. When the officer requested that the defendant stop and walk around the fence toward him, he complied, appearing nervous.
A frisk uncovered no weapons, but when the officer obtained permission to conduct a more thorough search, he found crack cocaine inside the defendant’s underwear and between his butt cheeks. Under these circumstances, the court found that the defendant was seized when he complied with the police order to stop walking, turn around, and approach the officer, explaining, “the fact that Beauchamp first walked away from police before the officers located him and pulled up next to him would suggest to a reasonable person that the officers were targeting Beauchamp and therefore he would not feel free to leave,” and that “a reasonable person in Beauchamp’s position would perceive that the officer’s instructions required compliance and restricted his ability to walk away.”
Walking Away from the Police is Not a Crime
The court found that the seizure was not supported by reasonable suspicion: “Beauchamp’s exercise of his right to walk away—even if the walk was made hurriedly, briskly, or snappily—does not turn his otherwise innocuous behavior into the conduct of a ‘suspicious suspect.’”
Lastly, the court found that the defendant’s consent to search was not voluntary because “Beauchamp gave his “consent” immediately after an officer had placed his hands inside Beauchamp’s butt to conduct the frisk. A scared, defenseless man is not in a position to say “no” to a police officer whose hands are still on or just removed from his body while another officer is standing just a few feet away.
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