“There They Are Right There!” – A Defective Terry Stop

State v. Kerwick, Terry StopThe propriety of a Terry stop (a.k.a. investigative detention) can be, and often is, a hotly contested issue during pre-trial suppression hearings and on appeal.  I’ve written about the legal standard required for a Terry stop many times, but one can never get enough Terry law, so here it is again, complete with case citations, as recited by the 2nd District Court of Appeals (Fort Worth):

A temporary or investigative detention is a seizure.  Francis v. State, 922 S.W.2d 176, 178 (Tex. Crim. App. 1996); Josey v. State, 981 S.W.2d 831, 838 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 1988, pet. ref‘d).  An investigative detention occurs when an individual is encountered by a police officer, yields to the officer‘s display of authority, and is temporarily detained for purposes of an investigation.  Johnson v. State, 912 S.W.2d 227, 235 (Tex. Crim. App. 1995).  Because an investigative detention is a seizure, reasonable suspicion must be shown by the officer to justify the seizure.  State v. Larue, 28 S.W.3d 549, 553 n.8 (Tex. Crim. App. 2000).

An officer conducts a lawful temporary detention when he has reasonable suspicion to believe that an individual is violating the law. Ford, 158 S.W.3d at 492.  “[T]he police officer must be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant that intrusion.”  Davis v. State, 947 S.W.2d 240, 242 (Tex. Crim. App. 1997) (quoting Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 21, 88 S. Ct. 1868, 1880 (1968)).  The articulable facts must show unusual activity, some evidence that connects the detainee to the unusual activity, and some indication that the unusual activity is related to a crime. Martinez, 2011 WL 2555712, at *2.  Articulable facts must amount to more than a mere inarticulate hunch, suspicion, or good faith suspicion that a crime was in progress. Crain v. State, 315 S.W.3d 43, 52 (Tex. Crim. App. 2010).

In State v. Kerwick, a recent case designated for publication by the 2nd COA, the Court was called upon to consider whether the trial court abused its discretion when it suppressed the evidence of a defendant’s warrantless arrest.  The arresting officer had been dispatched to the Stockyards after a brawl was reported outside a bar.  When he arrived, an unidentified person pointed at a group of people in a car and said “There they are right there.”  The car was pulling away when the officer approached on foot and ordered the driver to stop.  The driver was later arrested for DWI.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court (or at least found that the ruling was not outside the reasonable zone of disagreement) that the officer did not have “reasonable suspicion” to justify the Terry stop when the only facts he had were that a brawl was reported and an unidentified person said “There they are.”

While I agree that the officer did not have reasonable suspicion to justify the stop in this case, I think this case really hinged on the trial court’s initial ruling.  The standard of review (abuse of discretion – outside the zone of reasonable disagreement) is very deferential and had the trial court ruled for the State, it would not be hard to imagine the appellate court upholding that ruling as well (with the exact same facts).  Perhaps an obvious observation on my part.