In my last blog post I discussed a recent Minnesota Court of Appeals decision dealing with what police conduct constitutes a stop or seizure. The Court of Appeals in that case did not discuss what probable cause is required for the police to stop or detain you. The courts have dealt with the issue of probable cause in previous cases.
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution protects us from unlawful search and seizure by the police. Reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity is necessary in order to seize or detain you. In other words, the police must be able to reasonably point to specific observations that leads the officer to believe you have or are committing a crime in order to stop or detain you. In addition, the police can expand their investigation for criminal activity beyond the scope of the initial reason for stopping or detaining you.
For example, if an officer observes you drinking from a bottle of vodka while you are driving a car, then the officer likely has reasonable, articulable suspicion that you are drinking while driving and that you have an open alcoholic container in a motor vehicle. The officer is able to point to specific observations that lead him to reasonably believe that a crime is being committed – you drinking from a vodka bottle. In this scenario, the officer would likely have probable cause to stop or detain you to investigate whether a crime has or is being committed.
In addition, based on the previous example, the officer could expand the scope of his investigation upon stopping or detaining you if the officer makes additional observations that give him a reasonable, articulable suspicion that additional criminal activity may be occurring. For example, if the officer observes when he walks up to your window (after pulling you over) a crack pipe with a white rock burning in it on the dashboard of your car, the officer could then expand the scope of his investigation to the possession of drugs and drug paraphernalia, as well as whether you are under driving under the influence of a controlled substance.
The police are getting more aggressive in their identification and determination of probable cause. Police departments are sending officers to special training sessions provided by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency that teach officers new search and observation techniques. Consequently, officers are becoming more aggressive in their searches of people and vehicles. However, the police are still required to have reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity in order to stop or detain you.
What does this mean for you?
The Fourth Amendment still protects you from unjustified police interference. The police may not randomly stop you on a whim. The police must have probable cause to detain or stop you. If the police stop you, the officer must have reasonable suspicion based on specific observations that you are committing a crime or have committed a crime. In addition, the officer can expand the scope of their investigation if they make additional observations that gives the officer reasonable suspicion of other criminal activity beyond the officers original suspicions of criminal activity.
Remember that an officer’s suspicion of criminal activity is not the same as being convicted of a crime. The officer is merely investigating possible criminal activity; at this point the police are trying to determine if a crime has occurred.
If you believe the police have violated your 4th Amendment rights and / or you have or believe you will be charged with a crime, contact a Minneapolis criminal defense attorney for a free consultation. Your rights are important and you should have someone fighting to protect them.