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Media > Newsletters > Law Enforcement Bulletin > November 2012 > U.S. v. Navedo — Third Circuit Court of Appeals (Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania), Sept. 12, 2012

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U.S. v. Navedo — Third Circuit Court of Appeals (Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania), Sept. 12, 2012

Question: Do officers have reasonable suspicion to stop and question a suspect if they observe him looking at a gun followed by the suspect’s flight away from the officers, and does that justify the officers’ warrantless entry into his apartment, where the firearms were seized?

Quick Answer: No, without some other indicia of wrongdoing, mere unprovoked flight from the approaching officers does not support probable cause to arrest.

Facts: While performing surveillance in an unrelated case, two police officers saw a man approach Alexander Navedo on the porch of his apartment building. The man pulled what appeared to be a gun out of his book bag and showed it to Navedo. Navedo never touched the gun, and the officers did not see him do anything illegal. The officers got out of their car, identified themselves, and approached the men on the porch. Both men ran. One officer caught the man with the gun. Another officer chased Navedo into the building and up to his apartment. The officer tackled Navedo in the doorway and both men landed inside his apartment. The officer arrested Navedo and then saw several firearms and ammunition in the apartment. Navedo was convicted of illegally possessing the firearms that were seized from his apartment.

Why this case is important: The court here found that a suspect’s mere flight from the police upon noticing them did not constitute reasonable suspicion to detain. Navedo’s actions (in this case, merely being in a conversation with someone who had a gun) were not illegal. Navedo was not a suspect in some other criminal investigation. He was not in a high crime area or doing anything that suggested he was committing a crime. Under these circumstances, there was no reason for the officers to believe that he was committing a criminal offense, and therefore no reason to detain him, much less place him under arrest.  

Keep in mind: When someone runs, it’s your instinct to give chase. That’s because it’s a reasonable hunch that a person who runs is guilty of something. But the courts don’t always view it that way. Merely running away from the police is not a crime, nor is it necessarily evidence of criminal activity. In this case, the officers were not responding to a high-risk situation, and so they could have taken the time to allow the situation to develop further to try to establish reasonable suspicion on Navedo.  

Visit the Third Circuit Court of Appeals website to read the entire opinion.