>Reasonable Suspicion?

Posted on March 27, 2009 by Joseph

>A case argued earlier this month in the S.J.C., Commonwealth v. Johnson, SJC-10267, puts a spotlight on police departments’ double standard of “reasonable suspicion.” When Springfield Police officers approached a group of teenagers standing under a tree at 10AM, they asked Mr. Johnson to take his hands out of his pocket. A minute or two later–perhaps as a nervous tick–he returned his hands to his pocket. At that point he was pat-frisked, and was arrested for drug possession.
The only justification for the pat-frisk was a concern for officer safety. That is to say that the pat frisk was justified on the “reasonable suspicion” that Johnson was armed and dangerous. The suspicion of weapons was based on (1) being in a “high crime/high drug activity” neighborhood, and (2) Johnson putting his hands in his pockets.
Mr. Johnson and his four friends are African Americans. One has to wonder weather the frisk would have happened if it had been a group of white teenage girls in an affluent neighborhood. It raises the question: Shouldn’t a uniform standard of “reasonable suspicion” apply to all Massachusetts citizens equally? Should the S.J.C. reevaluate the constitutionality of using “high crime/high drug activity neighborhood” as a factor in determining whether a pat frisk is justified?See video of the oral argument here: mms://

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