Search and Seizure

Consider the following case study:

On the night of a big robbery, two police detectives were conducting a routine patrol in a marked police car. As they turned the corner, one of the detectives observed four men standing approximately 10 feet behind a vehicle. As the men observed the detectives approach, their “eyes lit up.” (The detectives said they resembled deer staring into an automobile’s headlights.) According to one of the detectives, the men then “ran back” toward the car and entered it; they “took off.” The magistrate judge described the men as having “walked quickly” back to the car; the district court found that they “ran or at least walked very quickly” to the car.

Although there were stores and homes in the surrounding blocks, the only buildings nearby were a few, mostly (although not entirely) abandoned apartment buildings. According to the detectives, the area was known for drug sales and drive-by shootings. One of the detectives remarked, “The average citizen doesn’t hang in that place.”

Believing the men were violating an anti-loitering statute, the detectives called for backup to help stop the vehicle. One stopped, the men were ordered out. One of the detectives could see several loaded magazine clips in plain view in the back seat of the car. When he asked the defendants what they were doing and if they lived in the area, the men denied living in the area and gave inconsistent answers regarding their reasons for being there; one of the defendants said he was taking one of the passengers home, an assertion no passenger confirmed. Based on these circumstances, one of the detectives read the men their rights and gave them another opportunity to dispel suspicion. When they failed to do so, they were placed under arrest for loitering and prowling. It was after the arrest that one of the detectives, in accordance with department policy, searched the interior and exterior of the vehicle and seized the loaded magazine clips and other items eventually traced to the robbery.

Was the stop of the vehicle legal?


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