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Reasonable Suspicion – Frisk – High-Crime Area, et al.

State v. Michael T. Morgan, 197 Wis. 2d 200, 539 N.W.2d 887 (1995)
For Morgan: Wm. J. Tyroler, SPD, Milwaukee Appellate; Calvin Malone

Issue/Holding:

… The court of appeals then held that the search of Morgan was supported by articulable facts in the record, including the “fairly-high-crime-rate area”; Morgan’s driving in two alleys at approximately 4:00 a.m.; Morgan’s nervous and unsuccessful efforts to produce a driver’s license upon request; and Morgan’s apparent violation of the traffic law by driving without a license. We also note that Officer Mulock and his partner were outnumbered by the three occupants of the car….

Like the court of appeals, we find that an officer’s perception of an area as “high-crime” can be a factor justifying a search. Professor LaFave notes that “the area in which the suspect is found is itself a highly relevant consideration” in justifying a search, and that the cases “most frequently stress that the observed circumstances occurred in a high-crime area.” 3 Wayne R. LaFave, Search and Seizure § 9.3(c), at 456 (2d ed. 1987). …

In the present matter, we agree with the court of appeals that the totality of the circumstances known to Officer Mulock justified a pat-down search of Morgan for weapons. Officer Mulock observed the defendant driving in and out of alleyways at four a.m., in an area which the officer considered a high-crime area, and in a car with an expired license. Officer Mulock observed that the defendant “appeared nervous” while failing to produce his operator’s license. According to Officer Mulock’s later testimony at the suppression hearing, Morgan was more nervous than the typical person stopped by the police. A reasonably prudent officer in the position of Officer Mulock could have concluded that Morgan might be armed. Terry, 392 U.S. at 30 (frisk is justified “where a police officer observes unusual conduct which leads him reasonably to conclude in light of his experience that . . . the persons with whom he is dealing may be armed and presently dangerous”). We find that these facts, taken in combination, were sufficient to cause a reasonable officer to have a reasonable suspicion that Morgan might be armed, and justified the limited pat-down search for weapons which Officer Mulock conducted.

 

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