Posted On: October 16, 2012 by Marc Neff

Unprovoked Flight, Without More, Cannot Elevate Reasonable Suspicion to Detain and Investigate into the Probable Cause Required for an Arrest

In United States v. Navedo, No. 11-3413 (3d Cir. Sept. 12, 2012), Defendant appealed the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey's denial of a motion to suppress weapons that police discovered in his home after a warrantless arrest. He argued that he was detained without reasonable suspicion or probable cause to arrest and that the weapons that were subsequently recovered from his apartment should therefore have been suppressed.

While performing surveillance, two undercover police officers observed Navedo’s co-defendant approach him carrying a bookbag. Co-defendant pulled what appeared to be a gun out of the bag. Defendant never touched or possessed the gun, he just leaned forward to see what was inside the bag. At that point the officers approached and identified themselves. Co-defendant threw the gun back into his bag and ran. Defendant also ran into his home and just as he had opened his apartment door, an officer tackled him and arrested him. Multiple weapons were found inside defendant's apartment.

The Court reaffirmed that reasonable suspicion for a Terry search is specific to the person who is detained. Until the officers approached, the Defendant had looked at the gun a third party showed him, engaged in a brief conversation, and nothing more. Officers had no information that would support a reasonable suspicion the defendant was engaged in arms trafficking and knew of nothing to connect him to prior criminal activity. From these facts, the officers did not have reasonable suspicion to detain and investigate.

The Court held that unprovoked flight, without more, only elevates reasonable suspicion into probable cause to arrest if officers have reasonable suspicion. In this case, although the reasonable suspicions of the police had justified a brief investigative detention of co-defendant, they did not have a reasonable suspicion to detain defendant who merely looked at the gun that co-defendant was showing him and engaged in brief conversation. This was not a high crime area, and police had no reason to suspect that defendant was demonstrating anything other than curiosity at the sight of a gun. The police, therefore, had no reason to suspect that defendant was involved in criminal activity, and even if they had a suspicion, they were only entitled to detain and investigate, not arrest.

The case was remanded with instructions that the order denying defendant's motion to suppress be vacated.

All persons charged with crimes are entitled to the protections afforded by the United States Constitution. An experienced criminal defense attorney helps to ensure that a defendant’s rights are protected before, during and after a trial. If you have been charged with or convicted of a criminal offense, you should consult with a criminal defense attorney immediately. For a confidential consultation, contact the Law Offices of Marc Neff at (215) 563-9800 or via email at marc@nefflawoffices.com.