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Reasonable Suspicion – Terry Stop

City of Chippewa Falls v. Kenneth C. Hein, No. 09AP2729, District III, 6/23/10

court of appeals decision (1-judge; not for publication); for Hein: Paul D. Polacek; BiC; (Resp. not on-line); Reply

Stop of Hein’s vehicle was supported by “reports of suspicious activity about 2:30 a.m., the nature of which was unknown:”

¬∂10¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†¬†… A prudent officer proceeding into such ambiguity and uncertainty will ensure the availability of witnesses or suspects and freeze the scene in order to further investigate:

[A] law enforcement officer will be confronted with many situations in which it seems necessary to acquire some further information from or about a person whose name he does not know, and whom, if further action is not taken, he is unlikely to find again ….

[I]n such circumstances, where a crime may have been committed and a suspect or important witness is about to disappear, it seems irrational to deprive the officer of the opportunity to ‚Äúfreeze‚ÄĚ the situation for a short time, so that he may make inquiry and arrive at a considered judgment about further action to be taken.¬†¬†To deny the police such a power would be to pay a high price in effective policing and in the police‚Äôs respect for the good sense of the rules that govern them.

4 WAYNE R. LAFAVE, SEARCH AND SEIZURE: A TREATISE ON THE FOURTH AMENDMENT § 9.2(a) at 286-87 (4th ed. 2004) (citation and footnote omitted); see alsoAdams v. Williams, 407 U.S. 143, 145-46 (1972) (brief stop of a suspicious individual, in order to determine his or her identity or to maintain the status quo momentarily while obtaining more information, may be most reasonable in light of the facts known to the officer at the time).

¶11      The totality of the circumstances presented to the officers at the time of the stop supported their decision to temporarily detain Hein while gathering more information.  The circuit court erred in granting Hein’s suppression motion.  Consequently, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

The stop in Williams was based on a specific report that an individual was carrying drugs and had a gun in his waistband; the question was whether the report was sufficiently reliable to support reasonable suspicion. In this case, the officer was merely told that Hein had been involved in an “incident” in a parking lot, and the report was so utterly bereft of details that the officer professed himself ‚Äúconfused about what had happened in the lot,‚ÄĚ ¬∂¬∂2-3. Neither Williams nor LaFave says that whenever the police don’t know what happened they can seize someone to see if they have reasonable suspicion for the seizure. If that sounds tautological that’s because it is. You need reasonable suspicion to believe a crime was committed, something missing in this case.

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