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Reasonable Suspicion – Drug Activity

State v. Craig R. Moss, 2012AP259-CR, District 3, 8/14/12

court of appeals decision (1-judge, ineligible for publication); case activity

Terry stop of Moss’s car supported by reasonable suspicion of involvement in drug activity:

¶10      While patrolling a high crime area in the middle of the night, Steffens observed a vehicle stop briefly in front of a known drug house.  When the vehicle observed Steffens’ squad car, it left the area, drove around, and reappeared nearby.  Although these facts may not, individually, give rise to reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigatory stop, the cumulative effect amounts to reasonable suspicion that criminal drug activity was afoot.  See Post, 301 Wis. 2d 1, ¶13.  Steffens properly conducted an investigative stop on the vehicle.

¶11      Moss argues that, pursuant to State v. Harris, 206 Wis. 2d 243, 557 N.W.2d 245 (1996), State v. Allen, 226 Wis. 2d 66, 593 N.W.2d 504 (Ct. App. 1999), and State v. Young, 212 Wis. 2d 417, 569 N.W.2d 84 (Ct. App. 1997), an individual’s mere presence in a high crime area, or briefly parking near a suspect residence at night, does not establish reasonable suspicion. …

¶12      We agree with Moss that an individual’s presence in a high crime area or a vehicle briefly parking near a suspect’s residence would not, by itself, amount to reasonable suspicion.  However, as explained above, that is not the test we apply.  “We look to the totality of the facts taken together.”  State v. Waldner, 206 Wis. 2d 51, 58, 556 N.W.2d 681 (1996).  As the building blocks of fact accumulate, “reasonable inferences about the cumulative effect can be drawn.”  Id.  The cumulative effect of the facts in this case—particularly including the suspicious driving route—gave rise to reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot and allowed Steffens to stop the vehicle.

Awfully thin support for this stop, quite close to the forbidden bright-line rule against assigning reasonable suspicion to mere presence in a high-crime area. Brown v. Texas, 443 U.S. 47, 49, 52 (1979) (no reasonable suspicion merely because person looks suspicious in “high drug problem area”); Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119, 124 (2000) (“An individual’s presence in an area of expected criminal activity, standing alone, is not enough to support a reasonable, particularized suspicion that the person is committing a crime.”); United States v. Keith, 559 F.3d 499, 506 (6th Cir. 2009) (Keith in area known for drug-trafficking and appeared to move intentionally away from police); State v. Doughty, 239 P.3d 573, ¶8 (Wash. 2010) (brief visit to known drug house at 3:20 a.m.). There are numerous cases on this theme, including to be sure ones that go the other way, especially with respect to someone leaving a drug house. In any event, there’s no dispute about the operative principle: more than mere presence in an area associated with criminal activity is required for a stop. What, here, is the “more”? Moss didn’t even go into the house; the only additional variable in the reasonable suspicion calculus is that he circled the block, slip op., ¶3. However, it simply isn’t clear, and the court doesn’t explain, why driving around the block was decisive, ¶12 (“particularly including the suspicious driving route”).

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