Reasonable Suspicion To Stop

Modified Transcript of “Reasonable Suspicion To Stop” for Hearing Impaired:

. . .By a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the person seized is engaged in criminal activity.

Reid v. Georgia, 448 U.S. 438, 440 (1980).


Any time I’m analyzing a DUI defense I generally break my assessment into four broad directions. Now within each of these are sub-directions, things that we can look at and say “The officer may have done everything that he’s support do here. Let’s move on and look at something else,” or “Wow, you know what? Doesn’t mean the officer’s a bad guy but there might be some wiggle room here with respect to how the process went.”


Coincidentally, those four broad directions generally go in the order of the way things went for you that day or night from the first time that the officer saw you or had knowledge of you and ending when you actually get out of custody, I know some people aren’t in custody in the traditional sense of orange clothes and mug shots and things, but it doesn’t change the fact that if you’re arrested you are in a custodial relationship with that officer.
Now the first burden of proof that the state generally has to satisfy is reasonable suspicion.

What reasonable suspicion is is the burden of proof that it takes to stop, seize, or pull you over in the first place. Now it’s not a terribly high burden of proof. We’re not talking about guilt beyond reasonable doubt, but it’s not a layup either. It’s not a situation where an officer can just say “A little bit of a slow night. Let’s stop somebody and see if they’re up to no good.”

SEE RELATED: What Is Reasonable Suspicion?

If you look at the broad spectrum of things that people are pulled over for you’ve got a lot of different things, some constitutional, some not when talk about why an officer came into contact with you. Sometimes you have zero sum propositions, things that frankly very few people would ever argue were not justified as a reason for a pullover: not having your lights on in the middle of the night, driving around on a flat, not having a tag on your car. If those things are going on, it’s effectively either is or isn’t, and if it isn’t, yes, an officer’s going to pull you over, and few would argue with that.

Down at the other end of the spectrum you’ve got things that people get pulled over for that are not necessarily constitutional. To give a hyperbolic example, being a black guy in a white neighborhood or driving slowly through an area where a known prostitute lives. Something like that may draw an officer’s attention to your vehicle and your personally but it’s still not going to be enough to throw those blue lights on subject you to some kind of seizure.


Everything else falls in the meaty part of the curve, and we always have to assess is this a circumstance whereby somebody’s 4th Amendment rights and their right to be left alone should be placed in peril. There’s case law that has a lot of these fact patterns laid out but invariably once a week, once a month, we take a look at something and say “You know what? I’ve never seen that before and we may have a constitutional argument.”


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