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“Just a Hunch” Isn’t a Good Enough Reason for an Arrest

Police officers are trained professionals, and many of them have developed sharp instincts for observing criminal behavior; that is, they have a hunch when something isn’t right. But a hunch is still an insufficient reason for an arrest, as an Ohio court recently ruled.

A nervous woman arouses police suspicion

Ranger Lukas Hammermeister was on patrol at a park in Montgomery County, Ohio when he observed Meagan White sitting in her parked car in a distant parking lot. Hammermeister drove by and saw White hunched over the center console of her vehicle. She saw the ranger, uttered a curse word, left her car and walked into the woods. Hammermeister kept watching. He saw White leave the woods and return to her car. She drove away. Hammermeister saw that White had a broken taillight and called for backup. The ranger stopped White, gave her a verbal warning for the taillight and told her she was free to leave. He noted that she appeared very nervous and was trembling.

By this time, the second officer had arrived at White’s car. Hammermeister then asked White if he could ask her a question. She agreed. He told her that he’d seen her actions in the parking lot and asked if she had anything illegal in her car. She said no. Then Hammermeister asked for permission to conduct a search, but he neglected to tell White that she had the right to refuse. White agreed to the search and got out of her car. Hammermeister found heroin in the center console and a marijuana pipe.

White would later ask the court to suppress the heroin evidence and dismiss the case against her.

A skeptical court finds nervousness alone does not provide reasonable cause to detain

The court agreed with White. It held that the officers did not have reasonable suspicion that White was doing anything criminal that would allow them to detain her and search her car after the traffic stop. Although White consented to the search, the court found that her consent was involuntary. White was never told that she had the right to say no to the officer’s search request. Furthermore, she was surrounded by two officers, making her feel as if she had no choice in the matter.

If police officers stop you, they must have a reasonable cause for doing so. Here, Hammermeister had no specific reason, but simply a hunch, and the court declared that a hunch isn’t good enough. If you are arrested, contact the Ohio criminal defense attorneys at Yavitch & Palmer Co., LPA.

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