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Running From the Police

In a recent 3rd Circuit Decision, an Federal Appeals Court held that a defendant’s flight from Officers who are seeking to stop and talk with him does not elevate “reasonable suspicion” to “probable cause” to arrest.  In United States of America V. Alexander Navedo, Mr. Navedo was seen talking with another individual on the street.  The second individual was seen showing Navedo a handgun.  Navedo merely looked at the weapon and took no further action. Upon observing these actions, the police approached the two men.  When the men saw the police approaching they both took flight.  Both men were chased down and arrested.

The Court found that what the police observed  was sufficient to justify a “reasonable suspicion” that Navedo was involved in criminal activity. Reasonable suspicion only justifies what is called a “Terry Stop,” meaning that the police are permitted to stop and investigate a suspect by asking him questions and possibly performing a pat down to determine if he or she is carrying a weapon.  In Navedo’s case, the police chased him down and arrested him arguing that his flight from their attempts to question him created “probable cause” to arrest him.

In order to arrest an individual, the police must have “probable cause” to believe that the suspect has committed a crime.  That means that there are facts available to the police that would make a person of reasonable caution believe the suspect had committed a crime.  What the Court is saying is that running from the police, without more, is not a fact that will transform “reasonable suspicion” into “probable cause.”  Therefore, if the police have reasonable suspicion regarding an individual, that person then runs from the police, they are not justified in arresting the individual based upon the act of running away.

The Court was also clear to reiterate prior caselaw that running from the police, on its own, is not a suspicious enough fact to create “reasonable suspicion”, making it justifiable to stop a person and perform an investigation.  Therefore, running from the police does not give them a reason to stop you.  It is, however, a suspicious fact and coupled with other factors may create a reasonable suspicion.  It has been held that running from police in a high crime high drug trafficking area CAN create reasonable suspicion.

This line of cases protects a person’s right to “go on his way” and avoid talking to the police.  It is based partially on the conclusion that there are many innocent reasons that a person may run away from the police, such as the desire to not be mistaken for a criminal and charged with something they did not do and the desire to avoid being a witness against another defendant.

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