Civil Liberties

Connecticut Court Says Cops Can Detain You For Being Near Someone That's Getting Arrested


Connecticut cops can detain citizens for no other reason than the suspicion they hold for another person, all in the name of "officer safety." According to a recent ruling from the state's highest court, if you are in a public place with a person who the cops want to arrest, they can detain you also—even if they have no reason to suspect you of doing anything wrong. On its face the ruling is not all that grandiose, but in a passionately written dissenting opinion Justice Eveleigh explains why this verdict tramples on citizens' Fourth Amendment rights:

I agree with the majority that the police have a legitimate interest in protecting themselves. There must be, however, some restrictions placed on the intent. In my view, there are several potential unconscionable ramifications to the majority opinion. For instance, if a suspect with an outstanding warrant is talking to his neighbor's family near the property line, can the police now detain the entire family as part of the encounter with the suspect? If the suspect is waiting at a bus stop with six other strangers, can they all be detained?

If the same suspect is observed leaving a house and stopped in the front yard, can the police now seize everyone in the house to ensure that no one will shoot them while they question the suspect? What if the suspect is detained in a neighborhood known to have a high incident of crime, can the police now seize everyone in the entire neighborhood to ensure their safety while they detain the suspect? There simply is no definition of who is a "companion" in the majority opinion. I would require more than mere "guilt by association." Ever mindful of Franklin's admonition, we cannot use the omnipresent specter of safety as a guise to authorize government intrusion.

As notes, such expanded power for the police could allow them to "use spurious reasons to detain people they just don't want around—like eyewitnesses and photographers."

The verdict comes from the case State of Connecticut v. Jeremy Kelly, where the defendant was seeking to have evidence thrown out of his trial because he claims that he was unlawfully detained by police and, therefore, his fourth amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure was violated. 

In 2007, Kelly was walking alongside another man into a driveway when two undercover officers determined that his walking companion fit the description of a guy they were looking for who had violated his probation. The officers stopped their car in front of the driveway, one of them displayed a badge and said, "I'm a police officer." The officer then told both men to come over to the vehicle, even though the cops at that point in time really only had a particular interest in one of the men. 

Both men did not comply with the officer's command and attempted to run away. The cops eventually caught up with the two of them and that is when they discovered Kelly was carrying cocaine.

So, he got nine years in prison. And the man that he was with? He wasn't the guy police were looking for.