The criminal case taken for analysis for this paper is The Illinois, Petitioner v. William aka Sam Wardlow of January 12, 2000. The case was at the Supreme Court level where the decision reached at the Trial court level was found to have been flawed and was therefore re-determined. The opinion of the court was delivered by Chief Justice Rehnquist.
On 9th of September 1995, officers Harvey and Nolan working on a special operation as in Chicago were driving through an area that was known for narcotics and drug trafficking investigating drug transactions in the area. On reaching 4035 West Van Buren, Nolan saw Wardlow holding an opaque back standing next to a building who fled on seeing the police officers. Suspecting that he was running away because of something he may have been hiding, the Officers pursued him and eventually stopped him after a short chase where Officer Nolan performed a protective pat-down on the respondent and frisked his bag. In the course of the search, Officer Nolan discovered an a.38 caliber handgun in the respondent’s bag containing five rounds of live ammunition and thereafter he arrested the respondent.
III. Legal Issues
The specific legal issues for this case included the quest as to whether Officer Nolan was justified in pursuing the respondent, frisking him, confiscating his gun and eventually arresting him. It was also sought whether the Officer in doing so violated the Fourth Commandment of the United States’ Constitution.
The other general legal issue that received further consideration was in what circumstances an Officer would conduct an investigatory stop and search under the Fourth Amendment.
The Illinois Trial court determined that the respondent was legally apprehended and the gun confiscated and therefore following the bench trial, the respondent was convicted of what was referred to as ‘unlawful use of a weapon by a felon’. This was rescinded by the Supreme Court which determined that Officer Nolan did not have sufficient suspicion to warrant the investigative search on the respondent pursuant to Ohio v. Terry 392 US 1 (1968).
V. Legal Rationale
The Supreme Court determined that circumstances surrounding the respondent’s response on seeing the Officers did not amount to sufficient suspicion to warrant the investigative search done on him. The Court stated that flight in a high crime area did not amount to sufficient suspicion. This was explained further by determining that inasmuch as the Police have the right to approach any suspicious looking individual(s) and question them, such individual(s) are not under any obligation to respond to these questions whatsoever and may just choose to walk away and such refusal cannot be considered sufficient legal basis for an investigative stop and search (183 Ill. 2d, at 311-312, 701 N. E. 2d, at 486-487). It was therefore determined that the respondent’s flight may have just been an exercise ‘to go away’. In their rescinding of the trial court’s decision, the Supreme Court further rejected the thought that flight of the respondent in a high crime area amounted to sufficient suspicion reasonable enough to warrant a Terry stop. Therefore, due to the fact that the court did not find any independent circumstance that would be considered suspicious enough for a Terry stop, the Court found the stop, search and the subsequent arrest to have violated the Fourth Amendment and therefore granted certiorari 526 UC (1999) and consequently reversed the Illinois trial court ruling.
There is however a question pending before the Court awaiting its determination and it is to do with the fact that irrespective of the fact that the apprehension, search and arrest of the respondent may have been unlawful, what potential difference does it make when it is considered that the respondent was found in possession of a gun in contravention of Illinois firearms statute? On this, the Supreme Court judgment is reserved for further consideration and determination.
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