Illinois v. Wardlow
528 U.S. 119, 120 S. Ct. 673, 145 L. Ed.2d 570 (2000)

The police were driving through an area known for a lot of drug trafficking. Wardlow saw the police looking at him from their patrol car and fled.

  • The police, figuring they had reasonable suspicion that Wardlow was doing something illegal, ran after him, caught him and performed a stop and frisk. They found he was carrying a concealed pistol.
  • Wardlow was arrested and charged with carrying a concealed weapon.
  • The Trial Court convicted Wardlow. He appealed.
    • Wardlow argued that the police had no probable cause to search him, since running away from the police is not evidence of any illegal activity. Therefore the search was unreasonable and a violation of the 4th Amendment.
  • The Illinois Supreme Court upheld the conviction. Wardlow appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court upheld the conviction.
    • The US Supreme Court noted that a person’s presence in an area of expected criminal activity, is not enough to support a reasonable particularized suspicion that the person is committing a crime.
    • However, that, combined with Wardlow’s unprovoked flight from the police was enough to create reasonable suspicion.
      • “Headlong flight is not necessarily indicative of wrongdoing, but it is certainly suggestive of such.”
    • Wardlow unsuccessfully argued that there might be any number of innocent reasons for fleeing the police. However, the Court found that based on the balancing test for stop and frisk established in Terry v. Ohio (392 U.S. 1 (1968)), there was no violation of the 4th Amendment. The stop was still justified even if there were innocent explanations.
  • In a concurrence, it was argued that there shouldn’t be a bright-line rule that unprovoked flight from the police automatically establishes reasonable suspicion. Instead, the courts should apply a totality of the circumstances test in each case and look at a number of factors to see if there was reasonable suspicion or not.