Question: Can a peace officer stop a vehicle based on a police dispatch that is later is shown to be a mistake-of-fact in identity?
Quick answer: Yes, because information received from a police broadcast is an official communication that’s considered trustworthy.
Facts: Police officers were conducting a robbery investigation of Steven Simpkins by following Simpkins’ car and surveilling his girlfriend’s house. One afternoon while searching for Simpkins, a detective saw a black male come out of a house wearing a black cap, white shirt, and black pants. The detective photographed the man, and another detective identified him as Simpkins. The first detective watched the man eventually get into a Chevy Malibu with another person. Simpkins’ girlfriend was known to drive a Malibu. The detective briefly lost sight of the car but quickly recovered and followed the vehicle to what the detective believed was Simpkins’ girlfriend’s home. He never actually saw the occupants of the Malibu enter the home, but chose to surveil the home and wait for Simpkins to leave. He later saw a black Hyundai drive up to the house. A black male walked out of the house, wearing a black cap, white shirt, and black pants, and he got into the passenger seat of the Hyundai. So the detective radioed to other officers that Simpkins was in a black Hyundai, in the front passenger seat, and that he had a warrant for his arrest for robbery. The detective asked that the sheriff’s department make the traffic stop to avoid exposing his surveillance vehicle.
A sheriff’s sergeant received the dispatch call and stopped the Hyundai. The sergeant removed the front passenger from the car, believing it was Simpkins. The sergeant noticed the suspect reaching into his waistband, so he pinned him against the police cruiser. The sergeant recovered a 9-mm handgun from the man’s waistband and also found marijuana, cocaine, and crack-cocaine. The sergeant told the suspect he was under arrest for robbery, but it was later discovered that the suspect was not Simpkins, but defendant Marcus Pickens. Another passenger in the vehicle was co-defendant Tywhon Butler, whom the sergeant also charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Both men moved to suppress the evidence, arguing that law enforcement had no basis to stop the vehicle.
Why this case is important: The court found that even though the first police detective made a mistake-of-fact in identity, the facts and circumstances show that his misidentification was reasonable and is supported by competent, credible evidence in the record: The detective was at a far distance while conducting surveillance, and when pictures taken of Pickens were compared to photos of Simpkins, the two men looked similar. Also, the responding sergeant was reasonable in relying on the police dispatched misidentification. The radio dispatch provided the sergeant with reasonable suspicion to stop the vehicle because, even though it gave incorrect information, police dispatches are an official communication and generally are considered trustworthy.
Keep in mind: You need only reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity to stop a vehicle, and you can rely on a police dispatch to get reasonable suspicion, regardless whether the dispatch provides information that you later learn is a mistake-of-fact. So any evidence of criminality found during your stop will not be suppressed as long as the mistake-of-fact is reasonable.
to read the entire Butler
to read the entire Pickens