Fourth Amendment/Reasonable Suspicion – Police officers lack reasonable suspicion to stop a pedestrian walking in a commonly traveled area when the stop is based solely on the pedestrian sharing general, common characteristics with the photograph of a suspect, especially if the photograph of the suspect does not itself indicate any criminal activity.
Fourth Amendment/Attenuation Doctrine – A stop based on an extreme lack of reasonable suspicion constitutes officer misconduct rendering the attenuation doctrine inapplicable.
Jaquan Walker was walking in public when he passed a uniformed police sergeant. Based on a picture of a suspected criminal that the officer had received in an earlier email, the sergeant and two other officers stopped and detained Walker. Walker gave his identification upon request, and the officers discovered Walker had an outstanding arrest warrant and arrested him. During a search incident to the arrest, an officer found marijuana on Walker and obtained statements from Walker that he had crack cocaine as well.
Walker was charged with possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance under 21 U.S.C. § 841(a)(1). He filed a motion to suppress the drug evidence and statements made during his arrest. The district court denied his motion, holding that Walker’s stop was lawful and not a custodial interrogation. Walker entered a conditional plea, appealing the district court’s ruling that police had reasonable suspicion to stop him.
The Second Circuit agreed, holding that the officers “lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Walker” because there was an insufficient amount of specific and articulable facts justifying the stop. The Court held that “the characteristics of the suspect identified by the district court based on the photograph–black male, medium-to-dark skin tone, glasses, facial hair, and long hair–is likewise a ‘description [that] fit[s] too many people to constitute sufficient articulable facts on which to justify a forcible stop.’”
The Court reasoned that these traits captured too wide a swath of individuals and were not sufficiently particularized. The Court added that Walker merely walking near a crime scene “fails to support reasonable suspicion” since it was not unusual for pedestrians to be where Walker was walking.
The Court also held that the district court erred in finding that the sergeant “believed the photographed individual was a suspect in a shooting” based on the email he received because “the email containing the photograph” did not not mention “any crime, let alone a shooting, or the depicted suspect’s criminal involvement.”
The Court further held that the attenuation doctrine did not apply. The Court first noted that the short, ten-minute temporal proximity between the unconstitutional stop and search did not support a finding of attenuation. However, the Court noted that the intervening circumstance that led to Walker’s arrest, the existence of a valid, unrelated warrant, supported a finding of attenuation.
Because the officers’ misconduct was purposeful or flagrant due to the “extreme lack of reasonable suspicion,” however, the Court held that the attenuation doctrine did not apply. The Court explained that the sergeant’s conduct was “so obviously deficient that it constitutes ‘deliberate, reckless, or grossly negligent conduct’” because the email and photograph used to justify the stop “contain[ed] no indication that the photographed individual had committed any crime.” The Court went on to state that “any reliance on the fact that Walker” shared generalized characteristics with the individual photo rested on an “unsound basis.”
The Court also held that once the officers “approached Walker and could confirm that he was not the photographed suspect,” they dispelled any suspicion they may have had. The Court held that Walker’s continued stop, which included running his identification for warrants, was “a mere fishing expedition.”
Appeal from the Northern District of New York
Opinion by Pooler, joined by Calabresi and Carney
Click here to read the opinion.