Six days after an armed robbery, an officer received reliable information that the defendant had been involved as the getaway driver. The officer immediately issued a “wanted flyer” to other police departments in the area, containing the defendant’s name, as well as the date and location of the robbery. The flyer also stated that the defendant was wanted for investigation of an armed robbery and cautioned that he was considered to be armed and dangerous. Approximately six days later, an officer from a nearby police department stopped the defendant while driving a vehicle, based on the “wanted flyer.” The officer was unable to confirm whether a warrant had been issued for the defendant’s arrest before approaching the vehicle. The officer ordered the defendant and a passenger out of the vehicle. Another officer arrived on the scene and observed through the open passenger door of the vehicle the butt of a revolver. The passenger, a convicted felon, was arrested. Two other weapons were found during the ensuing search and the defendant was arrested.
1. Whether a Terry stop for a crime that has already been completed is lawful under the Fourth Amendment?
2. Whether a Terry stop can be based on a “wanted flyer” issued by officers who had a reasonable suspicion that the suspect has committed an offense?
1. Yes. There is no limitation that the suspect stopped be either in the process of committing, or about to commit, a crime.
2. Yes. The validity of the “wanted flyer” rests on the issuing officer’s reasonable suspicion to stop the suspect.
Where officers have a reasonable suspicion that the suspect was involved in a prior crime and have been unable to locate him to investigate their suspicions, the government retains an interest in detecting and punishing those behaviors. This interest outweighs the intrusion caused by a Terry stop. However, the Court did not address whether Terry stops to investigate all past crimes are permissible.
Whether the officers who actually stopped the defendant had knowledge of the facts that gave rise to reasonable suspicion is immaterial. What is key is whether the officers who issued the “wanted flyer” had reasonable suspicion to conduct a Terry stop. If so, the suspect may be stopped on the basis of the flyer to “check identification, pose questions to the person, or to detain the person briefly while attempting to obtain further information.” Here, the officers who stopped the defendant did so lawfully, in that the officer who issued the flyer had reasonable suspicion for a stop. Because the initial stop was lawful, all evidence seized in plain view or incident to the arrest that followed was admissible.
469 U.S. 221, 105 S. Ct. 675 (1985)