Question: Is approaching a suspect on the street considered a Fourth Amendment “seizure” that requires reasonable suspicion?
Quick answer: Not exactly. A “seizure” does not happen until the suspect voluntarily stops or is physically restrained.
Facts: While patrolling an area known for drug trafficking and violent crimes, a police officer watched two men standing on the street making what looked like a hand-to-hand transaction. The officer thought the men were exchanging drugs for cash, so he left his police car to approach them. As he got close, one of the men, James Jones, began to sprint away from the scene. The officer chased Jones, yelling at him several times to stop. Jones never stopped, and during the chase, he dropped a brown paper bag and other unknown items. The officer finally caught up to Jones, pushed him to the ground, and handcuffed him. The officer noticed Jones’ pants and belt were unfastened. Two other police officers arrived to assist, and one officer retraced Jones’ path to find the items he dropped during the chase. He found an ammunition holder with 25 rounds, an ammunition pouch, a holster, a loaded .38-caliber handgun, and a brown paper bag containing an open beer. Police read Jones his Miranda rights, and he confessed to possessing the gun. He later tried to suppress the gun because he claimed there was no reasonable suspicion to detain him.
Why the case is important: The Sixth Circuit found that the officer had reasonable suspicion to detain Jones. Jones was not considered to be “seized” until police caught him and pushed him to the ground. A person is not “seized” under the Fourth Amendment during a police pursuit until the officer demands the suspect stop and the suspect actually stops. Until then, the suspect’s actions may provide the reasonable suspicion needed to detain him. Here, an officer observed Jones make a hand-to-hand transaction in a high-crime area known for drug activity; Jones ran when he was approached; and Jones dropped a number of items during the chase. Each fact alone does not create reasonable suspicion, but from the totality of the circumstances, reasonable suspicion existed for the officer to detain Jones.
Keep in mind: Remember that a suspect is not considered “seized” until he has been physically restrained or has voluntarily submitted to your authority as an officer. So a suspect’s actions may create the reasonable suspicion needed to legally detain him under the Fourth Amendment. That’s why it is so important to pay attention to what the suspect does when you approach. His actions may even establish probable cause for an arrest and be used against him in a later trial.
to read the entire opinion.