Psychology Today: Legal Reasonable Suspicion Rests on Unreasonable Assumptions

Psychology Today: Legal Reasonable Suspicion Rests on Unreasonable Assumptions by Melissa Anderson & Cynthia J. Najdowski (“Stereotypes about people of color may be limiting Fourth Amendment protections.”):

  • Research shows that neighborhoods where residents are predominantly people of color are more likely than others to be deemed “high crime areas.”
  • The “high crime” label is used to explain that stops, searches, and seizures executed are reasonable according to the Fourth Amendment standard.
  • This result is that people in communities of color are being under-protected by the Fourth Amendment and, consequently, over-policed.

The Fourth Amendment requires police officers to meet the standard of “reasonable suspicion” to justify any stops, searches, and seizures of civilians. The U.S. Supreme Court decided in Illinois v. Wardlow in 2000 that a suspect’s location in a “high crime area” is relevant to determining the “reasonableness” of an officer’s suspicion. However, more than 20 years later, what constitutes a high crime area is still unclear. Recent cases in state appellate courts have called into question the use of this vague construct in justifying reasonable suspicion and police conduct in relation to potential Fourth Amendment violations (e.g., Washington v. State of Maryland, 2021), but the U.S. Supreme Court has so far rejected the opportunity to provide clarification (e.g., Johnson v. Texas, 2021).

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