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Totality of circumstances supported stop, arrest for robbery

State v. Lamont C., 2013AP1687, District 1, 2/11/14; court of appeals decision (1-judge; ineligible for publication); case activity

¶14      We conclude under the facts in this case that [Officer] Hoffman did have reasonable suspicion … to stop … Lamont C. Hoffman, relying on information provided to him by a robbery victim, located Lamont C. within minutes of the robbery. In the limited time Hoffman was able to speak with the victim, Hoffman obtained information about the robbers’ ages, race and clothing. Lamont C.’s age, race and clothing matched that information. Furthermore, Hoffman found Lamont C. emerging from the east end of the school building within walking distance of the robbery—the same location M.R. gave police when describing the direction in which the robbers ran. Based on the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that Hoffman put forth “specific articulable facts and [drew] reasonable inferences from those facts, that [Lamont C.] [was] violating the law.” See State v. Gammons, 2001 WI App 36, ¶6, 241 Wis. 2d 296, 625 N.W.2d 623.

The age, race, and clothing information wasn’t specific or particularized: Young black males wearing dark hooded sweatshirts. (¶4). So where and when the officer saw Lamont may be what makes this a valid stop instead of mere racial profiling.

¶15      We also conclude that Hoffman had sufficient probable cause to arrest Lamont C. To make a warrantless arrest, a police officer “must have evidence that would lead a reasonable officer to believe that defendant probably committed an offense. It is only necessary that the information available to the officer leads him or her to conclude that guilt is more than a possibility.” State v. Wheaton, 114 Wis. 2d 346, 349-50, 338 N.W.2d 322 (Ct. App. 1983) (internal citations omitted), overruled on other grounds by State v. Pham, 137 Wis. 2d 31, 403 N.W.2d 35 (1987). As stated, Lamont C. fit the description provided by the robbery victim, was found within blocks of the robbery, and was found very shortly after the robbery. Moreover, Hoffman testified that Lamont C.’s demeanor was consistent with someone who had been running—something Hoffman considered relevant both because the victim stated that the robbers ran after noticing a squad car and because Lamont C. denied running. Under the totality of the circumstances, we conclude that Hoffman had reasonable suspicion to believe that Lamont C. was one of the three men that robbed M.R.[3]

[3]  We do not address Lamont C.’s argument that Hoffman lacked probable cause to place his hand on Lamont C.’s chest to check his (Lamont C.’s) heart rate. In light of the totality of the circumstances, Hoffman had probable cause to place Lamont C. under arrest regardless of whether he checked Lamont C.’s heart rate.

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