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Nervousness Can Provide Reasonable Suspicion in Some Cases

Nervousness when combined with other factors can produce reasonable suspicion necessary for police to stop a person for investigatory purposes aka a Terry stop, according to the NJ Appellate Division. State v. Dunbar, 2014 WL 714486 (NJ Super. Ct. App. Div. Feb. 26, 2014).

In August of 2012, policemen were sent to look into a report of “shots fired” in Jersey City. Id. at 1. When they arrived, there was a large group of people congregating together, but the group scattered when they saw the police. Id.

Defendant Ramier Dunbar caught the police’s eye as he appeared nervous and walked into and out of an alleyway. Id. The police followed him and one officer tried to ask Dunbar a question, but he didn’t respond and just kept walking while still keeping an eye on the patrol car. Id.

When the officer got out of the car, Dunbar started running away and threw a gun to the ground, which the cop picked up as he chased Dunbar. He was caught, arrested, and searched which uncovered marijuana. Id.

At trial, Dunbar moved to suppress “all the evidence seized as a result of his arrest” because the police lacked reasonable suspicion to stop Dunbar in the first place. Id. The motion was granted, but the State appealed.

The State must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that a warrantless stop and/or seizure qualifies as a preconceived Fourth Amendment exception. Under parameters established by Terry v. Ohio, 88 S.Ct. 1868 (1968), police can make an investigatory stop if they have reasonable suspicion. The Appellate Division found that this standard was satisfied. The Court found that this reasonable suspicion was supported by the fact that they were out on a call of “shots fired,” it was a chaotic scene, only Dunbar looked nervous, instead of leaving like everyone else he went into an alley, when he noticed officers following him he became more nervous, and when the police tried to speak with him he ran away.” Id. at 2.

“Nervousness alone would not have been sufficient,” but “nervousness and furtive movements may be considered in conjunction with other factors to establish reasonable and articulable suspicison.” Id. at 2-3. “The totality of the circumstances combined to create reasonable and articulable suspicion justifying the investigatory stop of Defendant, making seizure of the handgun, and Defendant’s eventual arrest, lawful.” Id. at 3.

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