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Brown v. Texas


A Texas statute made it a crime for any person to refuse to give his name and address to an officer “who has lawfully stopped him and requested the information.” Two officers observed the defendant and another man walk away from one another in an alley located in an area known for drug trafficking. While the men were separated when first observed, both officers believed the two had been meeting, or were about to meet, until the officers approached. Because the situation “looked suspicious” and the officers had never seen him in that area before, the defendant was stopped to ascertain his identity. The defendant was not suspected of any specific misconduct, nor were there any facts to indicate the defendant was armed. Upon being stopped, the defendant refused to identify himself. He was arrested and convicted for violating the Texas statute.


Whether the investigatory stop of the defendant was lawful under the Fourth Amendment?


No. The officers did not have facts equating to reasonable suspicion that criminal activity was afoot. The defendant was not “lawfully stopped” as required by the Texas statute.


When the defendant was stopped by the officers for the purpose of obtaining his identity, he was “seized” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Whether this seizure was reasonable depends on a balancing between society’s interest and an individual’s interest in being free from random interference by law enforcement officers. In order for an investigatory stop to be lawful, the officer must have reasonable suspicion, based on articulable facts, that the suspect is involved in criminal activity. Here, the officers did not have reasonable suspicion. While the defendant may have “looked suspicious,” the officers could not articulate facts to support this conclusion. The officer conceded that the purpose of the stop was simply to ascertain the defendant’s identity. Standing alone, the fact that the defendant was in a drug trafficking area is insufficient to conclude he was engaged in criminal conduct. Because the stop was unlawful, application of the Texas statute to these facts was unconstitutional.


443 U.S. 47, 99 S. Ct. 2637 (1979)

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