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Judges: Vehicle stop by cops reasonable

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a man's illegal gun possession conviction, ruling the South Bend Police officer who made the traffic stop had reasonable suspicion the car may be linked to a shooting in an apartment complex.

In United States of America v. Arnold Brewer, No. 08-3257, a police officer responded to a fight in an apartment complex known for criminal activity. As Officer Tutino was near the complex, he heard popping sounds like gun shots, and then heard on the dispatch shots had been fired. As he entered the apartment complex on the only road in which one can enter or exit the complex, he passed a white SUV driven by Arnold Brewer. Tutino radioed for other officers to watch for the SUV. By the time bystanders had told the officer the shots came from the SUV, another officer had already stopped Brewer's car. Brewer admitted to having guns in the car, although there was no evidence the shots heard came from any of Brewer's guns.

Because the witness descriptions of the vehicle came in after Brewer was stopped, that report can't be used to justify the stop, wrote Judge Richard Posner. The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals judges had to determine whether the car was stopped based on reasonable suspicion or pure hunch. Based on the circumstances of this case, the federal appellate judges ruled the police had reasonable suspicion to stop Brewer's car.

This case is different than one in which the police randomly stopped drivers to check drivers' licenses and registration when there was not suspicion of the drivers breaking the law, as was forbade in Delaware v. Prouse, 440 U.S. 648 657 (1979), wrote Judge Posner.

The police in this case had a compelling reason to ask questions of the white SUV because it was the only car seen leaving the complex just after Tutino heard gunshots. Considering the dangerousness of the crime, the safety of the officers responding to the incident, the minimal intrusion on the occupants of the car, and the need to stop potentially fleeing suspects until more information could be obtained, the police acted reasonably, wrote Judge Posner.

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