A stop may be constitutionally justified if there is a warrant. However, without a warrant, there must be either consent or exigent circumstances. These circumstances can be to refrain a suspect from fleeing or destroying evidence. However, more exceptions have arisen because of the frequency officers stop individuals. Thus, the need for a reason to stop.

Grounds for Stops: Reasonable Suspicion

Reasonable suspicion is an articulable set of facts that leads the officer to believe a suspect has or is about to commit a crime.

Reasonable suspicion is less than probable cause but more than a hunch. The best definition we have from Terry is that “Specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the intrusion.”

State v. Theodore Nelson

638 A.2d 730 (Me. 1994).

Nelson was convicted of a DUI.


Was the stop lawful?


Suspicion must come from a totality of the circumstances and the evidence for the suspicion cannot be obtained after the stop.


The stop was not lawful. Reversed, and the evidence vacated.


The officer was observing a vehicle to see if any unlawful activity would occur. Nelson pulled up with a friend in the parking lot and the officer observed Nelson drink a single can of beer and talk with his friend for about an hour. Nelson got out of the vehicle, went to his own vehicle, left, was driving normal, but was pulled over by the officer.


The officer only observed Nelson drink one beer over the course of an hour, which would have put him under the legal limit. With no prior evidence showing that Nelson had more to drink, there was no reason for the stop (appearance was normal out of the car and driving was normal). This was just a hunch.

However, the dissent argues that on Christmas Eve and the tradition to have more than one drink on the holiday, it would be reasonable to assume that Nelson had more to drink. Thus, the trial court would have been right to allow the evidence. This outcome would be present with one additional reasonable inference.

State v. David Dean

645 A.2d 634 (Me. 1994).

Dean was convicted of a DUI.


Was the stop made with reasonable suspicion?


A stop in a high crime area, in the dark, in a place that is usually uninhabited may give rise to reasonable suspicion.


There was reasonable suspicion justifiable for the stop. Affirmed.


Dean was parked at the end of the roundabout in the middle of the night when the officer pulled up, saw Dean’s parked vehicle, and made the stop. Previously, the officer had been asked to visit this location more frequently because there were several reports of vandalism and it was an unoccupied area.

On this particular occasion, the officer was not asked to visit the area, but did so anyways. He said that he wanted to see what Dean “was up to.”


Because of all the circumstances, this was a reasonable stop. Specifically, the time of day and the fact that the area was typically uninhabited lead to a reasonable suspicion. The fact that the area was a “high crime area” can serve as a factor (alone it is not enough to find reasonable suspicion). Combined with the other information is sufficient.

However, the dissent argues that simply wanting to see what the person in the parked vehicle was up to is not reasonable suspicion, but instead working on a hunch, or mere speculation contrary to the finding in Nelson.

Jamal Sizer v. State

174 A.3d 326 (Md. 2017).

Sizer was arrested, but evidence gathered at the arrest was restricted at trial. The state appeals.


Was there reasonable suspicion to make the stop.


Reasonable suspicion arises, when considering the totality of the circumstances, a person is suspected of committing or just about to commit a crime.


There was reasonable suspicion for the stop. Reversed.


The officers observed a group of individuals in a parking lot passing a drink around in an opaque bag. They suspected that it was alcohol which was then littered on the ground. Consequently, the officers approached the group and when they were about 5 yards away Sizer began to flee. The officers prevented the flight and discovered a handgun in the process. This led to a continued search which produced illegal pills. Sizer wished both the gun and the pills to be removed as evidence.

The officers were in the area because of increased reports about robberies and an individual carrying a handgun. However, they did not suspect that this group was connected with the robberies or handgun reports.


According to the majority, because the robberies are disconnected from this group, they cannot be used in a totality of the circumstances analysis. However, there was a suspicion of a crime ongoing (open container laws and littering) and Sizer’s flight increased the suspicion necessary to produce the stop.

However, the dissent argues that the lack of connected crimes is significant. The fact that the defendant fled is not enough and the connection of crimes and suspicion needs to be present to support a stop.

Additional Notes

According to Wardlow (a case relied on here), if there is a high crime area and flight, there is reasonable suspicion. However, that was not the case here because the crime approached for was not the reason for the high crime area.

Although there was no reasonable suspicion under Wardlow, there is reasonable suspicion because there was evidence of another crime and a flight.

Typically, the courts would take the phrase “high crime area” in addition to flight and automatically find reasonable suspicion (despite the court’s hesitancy in the present case). Our takeaway, Wardlow is the lowest standard the courts are willing to find reasonable suspicion.

Pretextual Stops

A pretextual stop is where the officers engage in a stop for one crime (where they have reasonable suspicion) to investigate a different crime (for which they have no reasonable suspicion).

People v. Frank Robinson

767 N.E.2d 638 (N.Y. 2001).

This is a series of consolidated cases.


Whether a police officer who has probable cause to believe a driver has committed a traffic infraction violates [the State constitutional standard] when the officer, whose primary motivation is to conduct another investigation, stops the vehicle.


When the officer has made a stop for a traffic violation, it is not a Fourth Amendment violation if the officers made the stop to investigate another matter.


Evidence collected on the basis of a traffic stop but under covering some other crime is admissible.


This is a consolidated set of cases. In each case, the officers discovered a traffic violation. As they were making the stop, they discovered additional criminal activity by the occupants of the vehicles. Arrests, charges, and convictions were made from this additional evidence.


This case adopts the same holding as the U.S. Supreme Court in Whren v. United States. As long as the officers had reasonable cause for one stop, they are free to conduct the investigation of another crime. Simply asking whether an officer “would have” made the stop is too uncertain of a test to adopt.

Additional Notes

As long as there is an objectively valid basis for the stop, a pretextual stop can be reasonable. However, First, there are limits, you cannot violate equal protection (cannot stop individuals for discriminatory purposes). Second, the scope of the search must be limited to the actual reason for the stop until additional evidence presents itself.

The alternative test is “would the reasonable officer make the stop?” However, the issue with this approach is that the subjective intent of the officer is difficult to ascertain.

Criminal Profiles and Race

A lot of departments will compile a list of individual characteristics that, when combined, will describe a person who is likely to commit a certain kind of crime. Using this profile may be a method utilized by officers to say they had reasonable suspicion.

Uriel Harris v. State

806 A.2d 119 (Del. 2002).

Harris was charged and convicted with possession of cocaine with intent to deliver and trafficking in more than 100 grams of cocaine.


The stop is reasonable if:

it is based on the detaining officer’s ability to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the intrusion.

A profile may be used to show that suspicion, but the profile must describe characteristics unique to the crime committer that does not match with the characteristics and activities of innocent individuals.


The profile used in this case was too generic. Reversed.


The officer was positioned on a train to observe individuals in an attempt to discover drug couriers. Harris was on the train, disembarked, looked over his shoulder three times, met with another person in the terminal, popped his head up in the back of a car, and looked out the rear view window of the vehicle. According to the officer, these are signs of a drug courier.

The officer approached the car and searched the backpack Harris was wearing. Harris disclaimed ownership of the backpack, as did his companions. In the backpack were illegal drugs which was used in obtaining Harris’s conviction.


Here, the profile was too generic. In other words, innocent individuals may be subject to a search based on this profile. According to the court, “even in the eyes of a reasonable, prudent, and experienced police officer” there was no basis for reasonable suspicion.

Additional Notes

According to Reid v. Georgia, if the factors describe too much innocent conduct, we are worried about random stops.

However, according to Quarles, innocent conduct could be considered as well, if there are additional facts that limit the number of innocent individuals who may be targeted by the profile.

Here, the court says that the facts here are more similar to Reid, so there is no reasonable suspicion.

The issue with using profiles is making sure that the profile is accurate can be difficult (no statistical evidence to back it up). Additionally, it can be difficult to ensure proper application (factors may be wrong or catch too many people).

Attorney General of Maryland Ending Discriminatory Profiling in Maryland, August 2015

Routine Activity

Race should take no part in criminal profiling. If the officer is making a stop, then the officer should consider if they are making the stop because of the race of the individual. In other words, criminal enforcement should be colorblind. Crime is crime, no matter who commits it. Thus stops of a particular ethnicity because of a belief that the ethnicity is more likely to commit a crime is improper. Instead, officers can develop profiles based on “amount of luggage, method of ticket payment, or time of travel.”

Investigative Activity

If the officer is provided reliable information about a suspect’s particular trait, they are free to use that trait in limiting the field of possible suspects in an investigation. For instance, if an informant who has been reliable gives information about the race of a potential suspect, the officer’s can be confident that they are looking for a suspect of that race. Otherwise, race should not be considered in narrowing the investigative scope.

Coleman v. State

562 A.2d 1171 (Del. 1989).

You can use race as an identifying factor as long as it is not the only identifying factor and the factor was provided by a reliable source.


The content contained in this article may contain inaccuracies and is not intended to reflect the opinions, views, beliefs, or practices of any academic professor or publication. Instead, this content is a reflection on the author’s understanding of the law and legal practices.

Will Laursen

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