Reasonable Suspicion – Too Easy to Satisfy
In State v. Welker, 2014 UT App 284, an opinion handed down just a few days ago, the Utah Court of Appeals reaffirmed just how easy the reasonable suspicion standard is to meet for law enforcement. “Reasonable suspicion” is the term given for the standard that law enforcement must meet before legally being able to stop a vehicle occupant to investigate criminal activity.
In the Welker case the police received a phone call from a woman who was at her apartment and saw a man in a truck who she believed “may have been” trying to enter a carport of a vacant apartment or “possibly” trying to burglarize her apartment or steal her trailer. This suspicious person was also looking in windows with a flashlight.
An officer responded to the scene, saw a truck which matched the description the caller gave leaving the area and made a traffic stop. Upon investigating the officer the police officer determined that the driver was operating his vehicle under the influence of alcohol or drugs to the point of being impaired.
On appeal the court of appeals determined that the officer acted appropriately and under the law of reasonable uspicion. The court reiterated the standard that must be met to make a traffic stop: A traffic stop is permitted “when the officer has reasonable, articulable suspicion that the person has been, is, or is about to be engaged in criminal activity.” Welker argued that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion because he did not describe any specific criminal conduct or any specific facts that he observed that could lead to an inference of criminal activity. The court rejected Welker’s arguments (big surprise) and found that the officer was not required to provide the specifics Welker wanted. Instead, all the officer needed to satisfy was that “as long as the underlying facts, and reasonable inferences drawn from those facts justify the conclusion that reasonable suspicion existed at the inception of” of the stop, the Fourth Amendment is satisfied.
Another loss for a criminal defendant in Utah. Who knows, one of these days an appellate court in Utah might actually stand up for individual liberty over state power. Don’t hold your breath.