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Can Arizona Police Stop Someone for Looking Suspicious?

Recently, a state appellate court issued an opinion in an Arizona gun possession case requiring the court determine if the police officers’ stop of the defendant violated his constitutional rights. The case presented the court with the opportunity to discuss when a police officer is justified in stopping and searching someone they believe to be suspicious.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s written opinion, police officers were in the middle of a traffic stop when they saw the defendant walk past them on the street. The defendant was wearing a red hooded sweatshirt and red sneakers. The officers knew red to be the color of a local gang. The officers also noticed that the defendant seemed to be avoiding looking in the officers’ direction. As the defendant walked away, he removed his hood, and officers were able to see that he was black and had long hair.

The officers believe the defendant was someone whom they had interacted with before, and ran that person’s name for warrants. It turns out that person had several warrants, and officers decided to stop the defendant. The officers stopped the defendant, who was placed on the curb and asked his name and if he had any weapons. The defendant provided the officers with a name and indicated that he did not have any weapons. An officer went to check the name supplied by the defendant, and while that officer was gone, another officer patted the defendant down, finding a gun. The defendant was then arrested and searched, during which the officers found methamphetamine. The officer then returned from conducting the name check, finding no warrants. It was later determined that the name the defendant gave was not his own.

The defendant filed a motion to suppress both the gun as well as the drugs, arguing that the police officers should have realized that he was not the person they suspected he was and that did not have reasonable suspicion or probable cause to stop and search him once they learned he was not the person they thought he was.

The court began by noting that the officers had the right to approach the defendant; however, there was no reasonable suspicion to pat him down. The court explained that there was no indication that the defendant had committed any crime or was armed. Thus, the search of the defendant was illegal. However, the court also held that the evidence should not be suppressed although it was the product of an illegal search. The court explained that under the inevitable discovery doctrine, a court need not suppress evidence that would have been otherwise discoverable but for the unlawful police conduct. Here, the court explained that the officers would have eventually learned that the defendant provided them with a false name, giving them probable cause to arrest him.

Have You Been Charged with an Arizona Gun Case?

If you have recently picked up an Arizona gun case, you should consult with a dedicated Arizona criminal defense attorney as soon as possible to discuss your case and what options you have to fight the case. Attorney James E. Novak is a preeminent Arizona criminal defense attorney with decades of experience defending the rights of his clients to be free from oppressive police conduct. Attorney Novak has a keen understanding of Arizona search and seizure law, and proudly represents those facing all types of serious Arizona felony crimes. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, call 480-413-1499 to schedule a free consultation today.

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Other Articles of Interest from The Law Office of James Novak’s Award Winning Blog:

Arizona Court Concludes Defendant’s Statement Made During Border-Crossing Stop Was Not Suppressible, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, December 19, 2018

Arizona Court Determines That a Filing Cabinet Is a “Nonresidential Structure” in Recent Burglary Case, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, January 14, 2019

Court Holds the Smell of Marijuana Still Gives Rise to the Probable Cause to Search, Despite Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Statute, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, November 20, 2018