Williams v. Commonwealth of Kentucky
Kentucky Supreme Court
Nov. 23, 2011
Question: Can you find reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk a suspect based on his association with others who are committing a crime?
Quick answer: Yes. You may do so as long as you are not relying solely on the suspect’s association with others.
Facts: Police officers received a call that a group of young men were loitering and using drugs on a public street. The officers responded and approached the suspects after witnessing some of them smoking marijuana in front of an abandoned building. Upon questioning, one of the suspects admitted that the large bulge in his front pants pocket was a bag of marijuana. A few officers also noticed handguns tucked in some of the suspects’ pants. At that point, a few suspects tried to walk away from police, so officers told the group to stop and lie on the ground. The officersfrisked everyone, including Williams, even though they did not see everyone smoking marijuana or carrying a gun. Once on the ground, an officer noticed that Williams had a bulge in the back of his pants waistband, which turned out to be a handgun. Williams was charged with possession of a handgun by a convicted felon, carrying a concealed deadly weapon, and loitering.
Why the case is important: The officers had reasonable suspicion to conduct a Terry “stop-and-frisk” of the nine suspects. The Kentucky Supreme Court disagreed with Williams’ argument that police stopped and frisked him only because of his association with the other men. Even though officers did not see Williams smoking marijuana or carrying a weapon, the court found that he was not simply a bystander in a public place. He was part of a group that police knew to openly use drugs and carry illegal firearms. Of course, Williams’ association with the group by itself was not enough to permit a Terry stop and frisk. But the officers could consider that association along with other observations in order to find reasonable suspicion.
Keep in mind: In finding reasonable suspicion to stop and frisk a potential suspect, you need more than the person’s mere presence among others committing a crime. Does the person seem to be a part of the group? Or does the person seem to be a bystander? Have you made any additional observations of the person that would justify a stop and frisk?
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