Police will often use a person’s presence in a high-crime area, coupled with unprovoked flight as sufficient to justify an officer’s brief, investigative stop. Illinois courts have decided that this was consistent with previous decisions recognizing a citizen’s right to ignore the police, as it found that unprovoked flight is not simply refusing to cooperate but is suspicious conduct that allows the police to investigate.

Presence in a high-crime area, by itself, is not a sufficient reason to justify a police stop. In one case, officers saw a person standing in an alleyway in a high-crime area. As they approached, he put something in his pocket. The court condemned the stop and subsequent search. The court found that search to be illegal because the defendant did not run.

The character of the neighborhood should not dominate the analysis of an investigatory detention. In a similar case, an officer on surveillance in a high-crime area known for shootings and narcotics activity called for the detention of two men he saw pull up in one vehicle, get out, and get into a different vehicle. A squad car pulled in front of the first vehicle. Six to eight officers, with their guns drawn, ordered the occupants to show their hands. Officers ordered the occupants out, handcuffed the defendant, and found drugs in the car.

The court first determined that the officers’ actions constituted an investigatory stop, the court further determined that the defendant’s presence in an area known for its crime was not sufficient to justify the detention. The facts known to officers were that the defendant left one car to get into another car. The court found that a large category of innocent people get out of their cars and into other people’s cars every day.

But the law does not always favor the defendant when the police appear to randomly stop him on the street. In some instances, the court will hold that officers on foot patrol are justified in detaining the defendant at a housing project in a high-crime area when the defendant turned away when he saw the officers and put something in his pants pocket. Illinois courts have ruled that a pat-down search was justified because, when he was questioned by the officers and the defendant refused to keep his hands out of his pockets.

In contrast, Illinois courts have ruled that police were not justified in stopping the defendant who was walking a bicycle late at night. There were no reports of recent criminal activity in the area, and the detainee did nothing to suggest he was involved in criminal activity.

Purav Bhatt is a criminal defense attorney serving the Chicagoland area including Cook, Lake, DuPage and Will counties. If you or a loved one has been charged with a criminal offense contact The Law Office of Purav Bhatt at 773-791-9682.