On Stopping Freddie Gray


On Stopping Freddie Gray

I had a conversation with a friend on the subject of why Freddie Gray was stopped and why he would run from police. A note to start: death is not a suitable punishment for running from the police—though Illinois's Supreme Court ruled in 2000 that flight can justify a search by police. However, in that case police had other information to bolster their suspicion of illegal activity. Note:

According to the court, unprovoked flight can lead to a warrantless arrest, but the Supreme Court has made it clear that cops are not justified in stopping everyone who flees. Underlying circumstances control.

Gray's arrest record explains how police recognized him, but not his death. As far as why Gray was stopped, the same process that applies here, as odd as it may initially sound, made me think of past debate on open carry.

Open carriers legally open carrying have been stopped before by police (many who filmed the engagement) over an officer's stated “concern.” Concern doesn't warrant a stop, reasonable suspicion of criminal behavior does. The Supreme Court held in Terry v Ohio that:

Whenever a police officer accosts an individual and restrains his freedom to walk away, he has “seized” that person within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.

A careful exploration of the outer surfaces of a person's clothing in an attempt to find weapons is a “search” under that Amendment.

Delaware v Prouse gives additional insight on reasonable suspicion:

A patrolman in a police cruiser stopped an automobile occupied by respondent and seized marihuana in plain view on the car floor. Respondent was subsequently indicted for illegal possession of a controlled substance. At a hearing on respondent's motion to suppress the marihuana, the patrolman testified that, prior to stopping the vehicle, he had observed neither traffic or equipment violations nor any suspicious activity, and that he made the stop only in order to check the driver's license and the car's registration. The patrolman was not acting pursuant to any standards, guidelines, or procedures pertaining to document spot checks, promulgated by either his department or the State Attorney General. The trial court granted the motion to suppress, finding the stop and detention to have been wholly capricious, and therefore violative of the Fourth Amendment. The Delaware Supreme Court affirmed.

SCOTUS held previously that prior convictions are an illegitimate substitute for “reasonable suspicion.” It's alleged that officers spied what looked like a switchblade knife clipped to Gray's pocket. Some states have weird laws concerning knives; Baltimore's ordinance prohibits the carry of switchblade knives. Gray's was described in court documents as a “spring-assist knife,” which:

The feds sought fit to clarify the federal version of the switchblade ban because spring-assist knives — which were explicitly designed to comply with decades-old switchblade prohibitions — are far from exotic in today's marketplace. You can find them at some of the country's largest retailers; hardware stores like Home Depot and outdoor gear shops likeREI routinely stock them.

Gray was reportedly arrested for possession of a switchblade. It was not a switchblade, then I'm not sure how the arrest counts as valid— unless Gray was on probation and Maryland classifies spring-assisted knives as “dangerous weapons.” That could be a likely violation. I'm not clear on the law here. I do know that it's important to follow the rule of law. If it's breached here, imagine how it might be breached against you in the future.

Bad cops are rare but they disrespect the badge and dishonor the oath they swore. They make it harder for the good cops who risk and serve on the streets every night (and when unionized, make it hard to get rid of the bad apples, another reason I dislike public sector unions). No one ever writes a story on good cops doing their jobs well. News is a curator of exceptions, not the rules. I also guarantee you that no one dislikes a bad cop as much as a good cop does.

Lastly, no, Gray did not have an active warrant. He bonded, was released, and had a June trial date.


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