The National Trial Lawyers - Badge
Top Lawyer 2017 - Badge

The Implications of Standing Firm Against Search and Seizure

In a landmark ruling, the highest court in the United States affirmed the significance of remaining composed if confronted by law enforcement.

During a routine surveillance in a neighborhood of Chicago known for frequent criminal activities, two law enforcement officials observed an individual who suddenly began to flee upon noticing their presence. The officers gave pursuit, apprehended the suspect, conducted a swift search, and discovered an unlawful firearm. The defendant, identified as Wardlow, challenged the admissibility of the firearm in court, arguing that the officers had no legal justification to suspect his involvement in criminal behavior. Wardlow’s efforts were in vain at the trial level, and the contention subsequently escalated to the United States Supreme Court.

On the 12th of January, 2000, the Supreme Court delivered a verdict affirming the legality of the officers’ actions, thus upholding the trial court’s decision to admit the weapon as evidence within the case of Illinois v. Wardlow.

What lessons can we derive from Wardlow’s experience? It essentially reaffirms a notion many of us intuitively grasp — in encounters with law enforcement, evasion is not a feasible strategy. But if the principle seems straightforward, why did it necessitate a judgment from the U.S. Supreme Court to provide clarity? To answer this, we delve deeper into search and seizure jurisprudence and its significance as shaped by this precedent.

The Fourth Amendment sets a precondition for lawful searches, demanding probable cause—the reasonable belief that evidence of a crime will likely be found. The definition of probable cause, however, is not absolute; rather, it hinges on a substantial amount of objective information supporting the presumption of criminal activity and the involvement of the suspect. Typically, police are required to secure a search warrant—a judicial authorization—prior to executing a search. Nonetheless, exceptions arise in situations where time constraints preclude the procurement of such a warrant.

In Wardlow’s ordeal, the encounter didn’t involve a search in the traditional sense. Instead, the officers executed what is commonly referred to as a “stop and frisk.” A foundational Supreme Court decision established that officers are empowered to:

  • halt an individual in a public setting upon “reasonable suspicion of involvement in criminal activities,” and
  • conduct a protective frisk (search of outer garments for weapons) if they harbor concerns for their safety.

Should police unearth evidence of criminal activity while performing the frisk, its admissibility in a court of law hinges on establishing “reasonable suspicion” for the initial engagement. Reasonable suspicion, while lacking the stringency of probable cause, transcends mere instinct, demanding observable and expressible facts as its foundation. In Wardlow’s case, the Court identified key factors:

  • The presence of Wardlow in an area notorious for drug trafficking, and
  • His immediate flight upon noticing law enforcement.

The Court deemed these factors sufficient to meet the threshold of reasonable suspicion, thus legitimizing the consequent stop and frisk.

Had Wardlow remained in place, precedent implies that the police could not have justified a stop and frisk based solely on the high crime nature of the area. It was the act of fleeing that bolstered the legitimacy of their suspicion.

At Jackson Law, we continually analyze and interpret such vital rulings to better serve and inform our clients regarding their rights. If you require legal assistance or guidance on similar matters, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at 650-587-8556. Our skill is your empowerment.

Contact Us

Fill out the contact form or call us at 650-587-8556 or 866-985-4850 
to schedule your consultation.

Leave Us a Message

We Accept the Following Payment Solutions