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March 30, 2012

Often times, a police officer seeks to justify the stop and search of a defendant by characterizing a neighborhood or area as “high crime.” The officer’s characterization of the area as “high crime” requires careful examination, which issue was recently explored in the 1st District case of People v. Harris, 2011 IL App. (1st) 103382 (No. 1-10-3382)(September 2, 2011). In Harris, the Court looked to U.S. v. Montero-Comargo, 208 F.3d 1122 (9th Cir. 2000), for the proposition that the police characterization of an area as “high crime” requires careful examination because it can easily serve as a proxy for race and ethnicity. The Court identified the following factors as relevant to the evaluation of whether the State has sufficiently established that the location is a high-crime area for Terry purposes: (1) whether there is a nexus between the type of crime most prevalent or common in the area and the type of crime suspected in the stop at issue; (2) whether the geographic boundaries of the area are limited; and (3) whether there is a temporal proximity between the evidence of heightened criminal activity and the date of the stop at issue.  A motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence should be granted if the State fails to present detailed evidence concerning the level of crime in the area where defendant was stopped, including timing, frequency, and the specifics of a location.  Relevant issues include whether the police were responding to any calls or reports and whether the boundaries of the area were well-defined. If those specifics are lacking, the stop and seizure of a defendant cannot be considered a lawful Terry stop and a defendant’s motion to quash arrest and suppress evidence should be granted.


If these issues apply to your situation, contact John McNamara for help.