United States v. Hensley

CourtUnited States Supreme Court
Citation105 S.Ct. 675,469 U.S. 221,83 L.Ed.2d 604
Docket NumberNo. 83-1330,83-1330
PartiesUNITED STATES, Petitioner, v. Thomas J. HENSLEY
Decision Date08 January 1985
Syllabus

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, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889. 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.

Held:

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. 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. 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. 233-236.

713 F.2d 220 (CA 6 1983), reversed and remanded.

Kathryn A. Oberly, Washington, D.C., for petitioner.

Edward G. Drennen, II, Florence, Ky., for respondent.

Justice O'CONNOR delivered the opinion of the Court.

We granted certiorari in this case, 467 U.S. 1203, 104 S.Ct. 2383, 81 L.Ed.2d 342 (1984), to determine whether police officers may stop and briefly detain a person who is the subject of a "wanted flyer" while they attempt to find out whether an arrest warrant has been issued. We conclude that such stops are consistent with the Fourth Amendment under appropriate circumstances.

I

On December 4, 1981, two armed men robbed a tavern in the Cincinnati suburb of St. Bernard, Ohio. Six days later, a St. Bernard police officer, Kenneth Davis, interviewed an informant who passed along information that respondent Thomas Hensley had driven the getaway car during the armed robbery. Officer Davis obtained a written statement from the informant and immediately issued a "wanted flyer" to other police departments in the Cincinnati metropolitan area.

The flyer twice stated that Hensley was wanted for investigation of an aggravated robbery. It described both Hensley and the date and location of the alleged robbery, and asked other departments to pick up and hold Hensley for the St. Bernard police in the event he were located. The flyer also warned other departments to use caution and to consider Hensley armed and dangerous.

The St. Bernard Police Department's "wanted flyer" was received by teletype in the headquarters of the Covington Police Department on December 10, 1981. Covington is a Kentucky suburb of Cincinnati that is approximately five miles from St. Bernard. The flyer was read aloud at each change of shift in the Covington Police Department between December 10 and December 16, 1981. Some of the Covington officers were acquainted with Hensley, and after December 10 they periodically looked for him at places in Covington he was known to frequent.

On December 16, 1981, Covington Officer Terence Eger saw a white Cadillac convertible stopped in the middle of a Covington street. Officer Eger saw Hensley in the driver's seat and asked him to move on. As Hensley drove away, Eger inquired by radio whether there was a warrant outstanding for Hensley's arrest. Before the dispatcher could answer, two other Covington officers who were in separate cars on patrol interrupted to say that there might be an Ohio robbery warrant outstanding on Hensley. The officers, Daniel Cope and David Rassache, subsequently testified that they had heard or read the St. Bernard flyer on several occasions, that they recalled that the flyer sought a stop for investigation only, and that in their experience the issuance of such a flyer was usually followed by the issuance of an arrest warrant. While the dispatcher checked to see whether a warrant had been issued, Officer Cope drove to a Holman Street address where Hensley occasionally stayed, and Officer Rassache went to check a second location.

The dispatcher had difficulty in confirming whether a warrant had been issued. Unable to locate the flyer, she called the Cincinnati Police Department on the mistaken belief that the flyer had originated in Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Police Department transferred the call to its records department, which placed the dispatcher on hold. In the meantime, Officer Cope reported that he had sighted a white Cadillac approaching him on Holman Street. Cope turned on his flashing lights and Hensley pulled over to the curb. Before Cope left his patrol car, the dispatcher advised him that she had "Cincinnati hunting for the warrant," App. 49, but that she had not yet confirmed it. Cope approached Hensley's car with his service revolver drawn and pointed into the air. He had Hensley and a passenger seated next to him step out of the car.

Moments later, Officer Rassache arrived in his separate car. He recognized the passenger, Albert Green, a convicted felon. Rassache stepped up to the open passenger door of Hensley's car and observed the butt of a revolver protruding from underneath the passenger's seat. Green was then arrested. A search of the car uncovered a second handgun wrapped in a jacket in the middle of the front seat and a third handgun in a bag in the back seat. After the discovery of these weapons, Hensley was also arrested.

After state handgun possession charges against Hensley were dismissed, Hensley was indicted by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Kentucky for being a convicted felon in possession of firearms in violation of 18 U.S.C.App. § 1202(a)(1). Hensley moved to suppress the handguns from evidence on the grounds that the Covington police had impermissibly stopped him in violation of the Fourth Amendment and the principles announced in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 88 S.Ct. 1868, 20 L.Ed.2d 889 (1968). The District Judge held the stop to be proper and denied the motion. Respondent was convicted after a bench trial and sentenced to two years in federal prison.

The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reversed the conviction. 713 F.2d 220 (1983). The panel noted that the Covington police could not justifiably conclude from...

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