The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled Monday that the Fourth Amendment does not bar an officer from stopping a vehicle to investigate a criminal misdemeanor that has already occurred.
The case arose when police officers stopped Jermaine Jones’ vehicle to investigate allegations that he committed fourth-degree assault, a misdemeanor in Kentucky. The district court ruled the Fourth Amendment bars investigatory stops prompted by a completed misdemeanor.
The Sixth Circuit reversed the judgment, balancing the interests of public safety and personal liberty. Applying a facts-and-circumstances test, the court determined that whether an officer might stop someone to investigate a crime turns on “the nature of the crime, how long ago the suspect committed it, and the ongoing risk of the individual to public safety.”
The court decided a general prohibition on stops to investigate completed non-felonies is not ideal because of the uncertain distinction between a felony and a misdemeanor. Instead, when determining the constitutionality of a police stop, two questions should be asked:
Did an officer stop a suspect to investigate a completed felony? If yes, we move on to consider the reasonableness of the officer’s suspicion. If the offense goes by another name, we ask whether this stop for this offense violates the Fourth Amendment.
The court held based on these considerations, Jones’ stop did not violate the Fourth Amendment. The holding rests on the fact that the officer who stopped Jones had reasonable suspicion to conclude Jones had committed an assault and therefore had probable cause. Moreover, the stop promoted the interests of preventing crime and promoting public safety because there were existing allegations that Jones would commit further violence and threats.