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High Crime Area
What is a high Crime Area? The Supreme Court has never answered this basic question. The Supreme Court typically had taken words used by officers and used it as a factor towards reasonable suspicion. The Supreme Court would allow the officers to state that an area is known for a particular criminal activity.
Since the Supreme Court has never defined the term, the Circuit Courts have tried to give their own interpretation of the term. Some courts like the First Circuit do not use the term “high crime area,” but rather describe a crime that is most prevalent in the area. They would narrow the term to a specific crime. In U.S. v. Wright, the court held there are some considerable factors they will use to determine whether an area is a high crime area. U.S. V. Wright, 485 F.3d 45, 53 (1st Cir. 2007). These factors include: (1) the nexus between the type of crime most prevalent or common in the area and the type of crime suspected in the instant case, e.g., U.S. v. Wardlow (noting that the area was not simply generally crime-ridden, but was particularly “known for heavy narcotics trafficking,” where the defendant was suspected of drug activity) U.S. v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. at 124, 120 S.Ct. 673; United States v. Edmonds (noting that the finding of a high crime area was supported by the similarity between the type of crime commonly found at that location and the type of crime for which the police suspected this defendant) United States v. Edmonds, 240 F.3d 55, 60 (D.C.Cir.2001); (2) limited geographic boundaries of the “area” or “neighborhood” being evaluated, e.g., United States v. Caruthers (affirming a district court’s finding of a high crime area, in part, because the evidence of frequent crime was specific to the exact intersection where the stop occurred) ; United States v. Montero–Camargo (en banc) (“We must be particularly careful to ensure that a ‘high crime’ area factor is not used with respect to entire neighborhoods or communities in which members of minority groups regularly go about their daily business, but is limited to specific, circumscribed locations where particular crimes occur with unusual regularity.”) ; and (3) temporal proximity between evidence of heightened criminal activity and the date of the stop or search at issue, e.g., United States v. Bailey (affirming high crime area finding, in part, because of criminal activity during week prior to the stop at issue, occurring in same location as the stop). U.S. V. Wright, 485 F.3d 45, 53 (1st Cir. 2007). These factors bring us one step closer to defining a “high crime area” but it does not solve the problem. What makes a crime prevalent in the community? Do we consider crime statistics or the officer’s knowledge of the particular area? This is a question the First Circuit has yet to define.
Also in U.S. v. Black, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals stated that an area was considered a high crime area because there were numerous arrests. The court did not explain what constitutes numerous arrests. Is there a certain threshold of arrests that would constitute a high crime? If there are numerous arrests in Wall Street for white collar crimes, would the court conclude that area is a high crime area? I doubt the court would designate Wall Street as a high crime area. Is the term high crime area only reserved for the inner city? In U.S. v. Montero-Camargo, Judge Kozinski writing a concurrence stated “without hesitation, the majority treats this as a crime wave, but is it really? Does an arrest every four months or so make for a high crime area? Compare United States v. Thornton (“In less than one year there had been some 2,500 drug arrests in the five-block-by-five-block area where the incident occurred.”) ; United States v. Morales, (“In the past year alone, the Agent had detained approximately 600 illegal aliens on this stretch of the highway.”). Can we rely on the vague and undocumented recollections of the officers here? Do the two officers’ figures of “15–20” and “about a dozen” reflect separate pools of incidents, or do they include somewhere, as here, both officers were involved? Are such estimates sufficiently precise to tell us anything useful about the area? I wouldn’t have thought so, although I could be persuaded otherwise. But my colleagues don’t even pause to ask the questions. To them, it’s a high crime area, because the officers say [it is] a high crime area.” The decision that an area has a high crime activity is based on the unilateral testimony of the officer. There is no other source to counter that assertion. It is just taken as truth. Judge Koniski goes on to say that police are trained to detect criminal activity and they look at the world with suspicious eyes.
This is a good thing because we rely on this suspicion to keep us safe from those who would harm us. But to rely on every cop’s repertoire of war stories to determine what is a “high crime area”and on that basis to treat otherwise innocuous behavior as grounds for reasonable suspicion-strikes me as an invitation to trouble. If the testimony of two officers that they made, at most, 32 arrests during the course of a decade is sufficient to turn the road here into a high crime area, then what area under police surveillance wouldn’t qualify as one? There are street corners in our inner cities that see as much crime within a month—even a week. I would be most reluctant to give police the power to turn any area into a high crime area based on their unadorned personal experiences. I certainly would not reach out to decide the issue.” U.S. v. Montero, Camargo, 1122, 1143 (9th Cir. 2000)
I would imagine that Judge Koniski would agree that the Fourth Amendment rights of individuals living in the inner cities have been diminished unlike individuals on Wall Street.
If you have questions about a High Crime Area in San Diego, contact San Diego Criminal Defense Attorney Vik Monder at 619.405.0063 or visit High Crime Attorney