United States v. Hensley
Annotate this Case
469 U.S. 221 (1985)
U.S. Supreme Court
United States v. Hensley, 469 U.S. 221 (1985)
United States v. Hensley
Argued November 5, 1984
Decided January 8, 1985
469 U.S. 221
Following an armed robbery in the Cincinnati suburb of St. Bernard, Ohio, a St. Bernard police officer, on the basis of information obtained from an informant that respondent had driven the getaway car during the robbery, issued a "wanted flyer" to other police departments in the area. The flyer stated that respondent was wanted for investigation of the robbery, described him and the date and location of the robbery, and asked the other departments to pick up and hold him for the St. Bernard police. Subsequently, on the basis of the flyer and after inquiring without success as to whether a warrant was outstanding for respondent's arrest, police officers from Covington, Ky., another Cincinnati suburb, stopped an automobile that respondent was seen driving. One of the officers recognized a passenger in the car as a convicted felon and, upon observing a revolver butt protruding from underneath the passenger's seat, arrested the passenger. After a search of the car uncovered other handguns, respondent was also arrested. Respondent was then indicted on the federal charge of being a convicted felon in possession of firearms. Respondent moved to suppress the handguns from evidence on the grounds that the Covington police had stopped him in violation of the Fourth Amendment and the principles announced in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1. The Federal District Court denied respondent's motion, and he was convicted. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the stop of respondent's car was improper because the crime being investigated was not imminent or ongoing, but rather was already completed, that the "wanted flyer" was insufficient to create a reasonable suspicion that respondent had committed a crime, and that therefore his conviction rested on evidence obtained through an illegal arrest.
1. Where police have been unable to locate a person suspected of involvement in a past crime, the ability to briefly stop that person, ask questions, or check identification in the absence of probable cause promotes the strong government interest in solving crimes and bringing offenders to justice. Restraining police action until after probable cause is obtained would not only hinder the investigation but might also enable the suspect to flee and remain at large. The law enforcement interests at stake in these circumstances outweigh the individual's interest to be
free of a stop and detention that is no more extensive than permissible in the investigation of imminent or ongoing crimes. When police have a reasonable suspicion, grounded in specific and articulable facts, that a person they encounter was involved in or is wanted in connection with a completed felony, then a Terry stop may be made to investigate that suspicion. Pp. 469 U. S. 227-229.
2. If a "wanted flyer" has been issued on the basis of articulable facts supporting a reasonable suspicion that the person wanted has committed an offense, then reliance on that flyer justifies a stop to check identification, to pose questions, or to detain the person briefly while attempting to obtain further information. It is the objective reading of the flyer that determines whether police officers from a department other than the one that issued the flyer can defensibly act in reliance on it. Assuming that the police make a Terry stop in objective reliance on a flyer, the evidence uncovered in the course of the stop is admissible if the police who issued the flyer possessed a reasonable suspicion justifying the stop, and if the stop that occurred was not significantly more intrusive than would have been permitted the issuing department. Pp. 469 U. S. 229-233.
3. Under the above principles, the investigatory stop of respondent was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, and therefore the evidence discovered during the stop was admissible. The justification for a stop did not evaporate when the armed robbery was completed. Respondent was reasonably suspected of involvement in a felony and was at large from the time the suspicion arose until the stop by the Covington police. A brief stop and detention at the earliest opportunity after the suspicion arose was fully consistent with Fourth Amendment principles. The flyer issued by the St. Bernard police, objectively read and supported by a reasonable suspicion on the part of the issuing department, justified the length and intrusiveness of the stop and detention that occurred. And it is irrelevant whether the Covington police intended to detain respondent only long enough to confirm the existence of a warrant, or for a longer period. Pp. 469 U. S. 233-236.
713 F.2d 220, reversed and remanded.
O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. BRENNAN, J., filed a concurring opinion, post, p. 469 U. S. 236.