- WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The
U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the police sometimes may stop
and question someone who suddenly tries to run away after seeing officers
arrive, a decision favoring police powers over individual privacy rights.
- The high court's 5-4 decision said police officers had
sufficient reason to chase after and stop a Chicago man who ran after spotting
the officers arrive in a high-crime area known for drug trafficking.
- The high court, controlled by a conservative majority,
in recent years has generally sided with the police in curtailing the rights
of criminal suspects.
- The case involved William Wardlow, who ran away after
seeing four patrol cars and eight officers converge on the area. Two officers
pursued Wardlow and eventually cornered him in an alley. After a pat-down
search, they found a revolver and five rounds of ammunition in a bag he
- The justices reversed a decision by the Illinois Supreme
Court declaring that the stop violated Wardlow's constitutional privacy
rights protecting against unreasonable searches and seizures of evidence.
- Rehnquist said an individual's presence in a high-crime
area was not enough by itself to justify a stop, but that it was a relevant
factor in determining whether the circumstances were suspicious enough
to warrant further investigation.
- ``In this case, it was not merely Wardlow's presence
in an area of heavy narcotics trafficking that aroused the officers' suspicion,
but his unprovoked flight upon noticing the police,'' Rehnquist said.
- ``Nervous, evasive behavior is a pertinent factor in
determining reasonable suspicion'' to justify a police stop, he said.
- ``Headlong flight -- wherever it occurs -- is the consummate
act of evasion; it is not necessarily indicative of wrongdoing, but it
is certainly suggestive of such,'' Rehnquist said.
- He said flight can help create reasonable suspicion to
justify a stop.
- In allowing such detentions, the Supreme Court ``accepts
the risk that officers may stop innocent people,'' Rehnquist said, adding
that such stops would involve a ``minimal intrusion.''
- Justice John Paul Stevens said in an opinion joined by
three other justices that he agreed with the court that reasonable suspicion
must be determined by the ``totality of the circumstances -- the whole
- But he dissented regarding the stop of Wardlow, saying
the police did not have reasonable suspicion.
- ``I am not persuaded that the mere fact that someone
standing on a sidewalk looked in the direction of a passing car before
starting to run is sufficient to justify a forcible stop and frisk,'' Stevens
- The National Association of Police Organizations applauded
- ``We are gratified by the Supreme Court's 5-4 vote upholding
the right of law enforcement officers to stop, question and search for
weapons those persons who run away once they see a police officer. Effective
law enforcement requires no less,'' said Robert Scully, the group's executive