Fear: A legitimate reason to flee police?

The United States Supreme Court has long held that nervousness, evasive behavior, or headlong flight, are individual factors in determining reasonable suspicion.[1] To put in laymen’s terms, the United States Supreme Court has said that running from the police is enough to indicate that you are doing something worth investigating.  That is startling for those of us who would like an interaction with police to be more civilized than an interaction with a bear.  In the latter event "do not run" is a viable survival instruction, it is terrifying that works for the former too. In 2014 the ACLU of Massachusetts conducted a study that found that black Massachusettians were disproportionately stopped by police.[2]  While this is unlikely to be surprising to even the most myopic observer, this data actually affected the real world in a meaningful way. Just this week, using this and other evidence that shows disproportionate police interaction with minorities, the Massachusetts high court threw out the gun conviction of Jimmy Warren.[3] Using this data, the Massachusetts court found that “…flight is not necessarily probative of a suspect’s state of mind…Rather, the finding that black males in Boston are disproportionately and repeatedly targeted…suggests a reason for flight unrelated to consciousness of guilt. Such an individual, when approached by the police, might just as easily be motivated by the desire to avoid the recurring indignity of being racially profiled as by the desire to hide criminal activity.”[4]

Does this indicate a tidal shift in reasonable suspicion evaluations used by police officers?  Only time will tell. Until then, "do not run" is still good advice whether talking about an interaction with either police, or bears.


--By Derek A. Jordan, Esq., Barnes Law

Derek A. Jordan is an associate attorney with Barnes Law, licensed to practice law in Tennessee.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the firm, its clients, or any of its or their respective affiliates. This article is for general information purposes and is not intended to be and should not be taken as legal advice.


[1] See: https://supreme.justia.com/cases/federal/us/528/119/case.html

[2] See: https://aclum.org/our-work/aclum-issues/racial-justice/ending-racist-stop-and-frisk/#read

[3] See: http://www.wbur.org/news/2016/09/20/mass-high-court-black-men-may-have-legitimate-reason-to-flee-police

[4] See: http://www.mass.gov/courts/docs/sjc/reporter-of-decisions/new-opinions/11956.pdf