United States v Lopez 7thCIR 18OCT2018

United States v Lopez 7thCIR 18OCT2018

When I was teaching Search and Seizure Law to future federal LEOs at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, to make sure they fully understood the level of certainty that was required to lawfully detain a person to conduct a criminal investigation, I would often ask: “When can you lawfully conduct a Terry Stop on just a hunch?”  The answer is, of course, NEVER.

This case is a great example of what you cannot do on just a “hunch.”  The initial detention was based on a hunch that the defendant had “drug-trafficking contraband.” The officers stopped the defendant based on information they had that gave them a hunch that a bag he had in his possession contained drugs, but the information did not rise to the level of reasonable suspicion.  To make matters worse, after they discovered the bag did not contain drugs they continued the detention.  The officers told him he was “free to leave” … but kept his cell phone and keys.  They then sought and obtained consent to search his house where a firearm and heroin was found.

The District Court denied the defendant’s motion to suppress, but the Seventh Circuit reversed the District Court’s decision on two independent grounds.  First, the court held that the initial stop based on a hunch was unlawful. That decision alone would support a reversal, but the court was not finished.  To further drive the point home, the court also held that even if the initial stop was valid, the continued detention after no drugs were discovered was an unlawful seizure under the Fourth Amendment.  Since consent was obtained after not one, but TWO unlawful seizures, the consent was invalid and the subsequent search was unlawful under the Fourth Amendment.

I really do not enjoy sharing cases where LEOs made incorrect Fourth Amendment decisions that led to criminal convictions being set aside. But no matter how long you’ve been in this business, we can all learn from these mistakes.  It is really hard not to act on a hunch, but you have to patiently observe and gather the facts to at least have a reasonable suspicion before you can lawfully detain someone.  I strongly encourage you to click on the link below and read the full opinion!

To read or download the full decision CLICK HERE