United States v. Terrill Rickmon, Sr. (7th Cir. March 2020)

The Federal Docket

March 18, 2020

Fourth Amendment – The totality of circumstances justified a traffic stop where, among other factors, the vehicle was stopped shortly after it was seen emerging from an area where ShotSpotter had detected shooting.

An increasing number of police departments are using ShotSpotter, a GPS-enabled technology that lets police officers identify areas where guns are being fired. The technology relies on microphones placed in certain areas which pick up sounds and relay them to an operator who informs the police if the sound detected is a gunshot.

This case involved a matter of first impression in the Seventh Circuit, requiring the Court to answer whether law enforcement has reasonable suspicion to  stop of a vehicle in part based on the fact that it is “emerging from the source of a ShotSpotter alert.”

The Court held that stop was constitutional based on the totality of circumstances. Prior to the stop, ShotSpotter twice reported gun shots coming from a location. Shortly after arriving at the location and driving a little up the street, the officer noticed a car driving up the street, from the location that ShotSpotter had identified, which is when he activated his lights and performed the traffic stop. Though the officer later testified that he had no reason to suspect that weapons were in the car or that the occupants were fleeing, the Court credited, among other things, the “short lapse of time” between the ShotSpotter notice and the stop, the dispatcher’s description of other vehicles leaving the area, the proximity of the vehicle to the area, and the vehicle “reversing slightly” and moving away from the officer. The Court also noted that the occupants and yelled to the officer that “They are still down there,” which gave the officer a reason to stop the car to inquire if they were witnesses or were involved in the shooting.

The Court cautioned, however, that it “generally agrees” that ShotSpotter, “standing on its own,” would not create individualized suspicion to justify a traffic stop. In a footnote, the Court added that ShotSpotter’s reliability has been called into question, and it noted that the time may come when the Court will “have to determine ShotSpotter’s reliability where a single alert turns out to be the only articulable fact in the totality of the circumstances.”

Appeal from the Central District of Illinois

Opinion by Flaum, joined by Wood and Ripple

Click here to read the opinion.

Tom Church - Tom is a trial and appellate lawyer focusing on criminal defense and civil trials. Tom is the author of "The Federal Docket" and is a contributor to Mercer Law Review's Annual Survey in the areas of federal sentencing guidelines and criminal law. Tom graduated with honors from the University of Georgia Law School where he served as a research assistant to the faculty in the areas of constitutional law and civil rights litigation. Read Tom's reviews on AVVO. Follow Tom on Linkedin.

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