Wardlow was standing in an area of Chicago known for drug dealing. As four police vehicles approached the area he fled, but was stopped by a police officer. During a protective pat-down search of Wardlow for weapons, the officer discovered a handgun and arrested him. Wardlow’s lawyer moved to suppress the weapon from evidence, arguing that the stop and search violated the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.
In Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), the Supreme Court held that a police officer may stop and briefly detain a person if the officer had reasonable suspicion to believe that he was engaging or about to engage in criminal activity. During the stop the officer is permitted to conduct a protective pat-down search for weapons. The Court required that the reasonable suspicion must be based on the existence of articulable facts and the inferences the officer could draw from them based on his experience.
The precise issue in Wardlow’s case was whether standing in a drug trafficking area and then fleeing when the police vehicles approached supported a finding of reasonable suspicion. In upholding the constitutionality of the stop the Court concluded that 1) while standing in such an area does not, by itself, support a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, the characteristics of the location were suspicious enough to warrant further investigation; and 2) based on reasonable inferences about human behavior, fleeing from such a location suggested wrongdoing. Together these supported a finding of reasonable suspicion.
STEVEN B. DOW
References and Further Reading
Cases and Statutes Cited
See also Search (General Definition); Seizures; Stop and Frisk