United States v. Hensley

PETITIONER: United States
LOCATION: United States Courthouse

DOCKET NO.: 83-1330
DECIDED BY: Burger Court (1981-1986)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

CITATION: 469 US 221 (1985)
ARGUED: Nov 05, 1984
DECIDED: Jan 08, 1985

Edward G. Drennen, II - on behalf of Respondent
Ms. Kathryn A. Oberly - on behalf of Petitioner

Facts of the case


Media for United States v. Hensley

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - November 05, 1984 in United States v. Hensley

Warren E. Burger:

We'll hear arguments next in United States against Hensley.

Ms. Oberly, I think you may proceed when you're ready.

Ms. Kathryn A. Oberly:

Thank you, Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court:

Respondent in this case was convicted of being a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

The Court of Appeals reversed the conviction on the theory that the guns found in Respondent's car were the fruits of an illegal arrest.

The court's ruling was based on two grounds:

First, the court held that investigatory stops, commonly known as Terry stops, may only be made when the police reasonably suspect that a crime is ongoing at the moment of the investigatory stop.

Because that was not the case here... Respondent was stopped in connection with a robbery that had been committed two weeks earlier... the court concluded that this could not be a valid investigatory stop case.

The court then treated the case as an arrest case and concluded that the officers who made what we consider the stop, what the court considered an arrest, lacked probable cause for an arrest because the facts they were relying on were a wanted flyer issued by a neighboring police department saying that Respondent was wanted in connection with an armed robbery that had been committed in the neighboring jurisdiction.

In our view, the Court of Appeals' analysis was fundamentally flawed by its initial ruling on the scope of investigatory stops.

We actually find it somewhat hard to believe that the court meant what it said, because there is no decision of this Court that limits investigatory stops to ongoing crimes, and in fact the Court has repeatedly said, as have most of the other circuits, that a police officer having reasonable suspicion may stop when he suspects that a crime is being committed, is about to be committed, or has been committed in the past.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Ms. Oberly, do you take the position that a Terry stop could be made to investigate a past misdemeanor offense?

Ms. Kathryn A. Oberly:

I think that it probably could be, Your Honor, although this here is a past felony offense.

Sandra Day O'Connor:

Yes, I know.

Ms. Kathryn A. Oberly:

But it would depend somewhat on the circumstances.

I don't think, for example, that police departments routinely issue wanted flyers for people who are suspected of having committed misdemeanors.

So that I don't think it would arise in the case of a misdemeanor.

But I don't think that there's any... in terms of law enforcement interests, the interest is clearly greater in apprehending suspected felons.

But there is still an interest on the law enforcement side in apprehending anyone suspected of committing a crime, whether it's a misdemeanor or a felony.

And so on one side you have the law enforcement interest in apprehending people suspected of committing crimes, and on the other hand, on the other side of the Terry balance as developed in subsequent cases, you have the intrusion on the individual being stopped.

And so long as the intrusion is sufficiently limited, as it was in this case... this was the most limited intrusion imaginable, the stop in this case... then I think that the law enforcement interest in apprehending people suspected of crimes would not dissipate simply because it was a misdemeanor.

But that is, I would stress, not our case here.

This is an armed robbery committed by someone who all police departments believed was armed and dangerous, who had a long criminal record, who was known to the police of both departments, and this was a very serious offense.

John Paul Stevens:

May I ask if the law enforcement interest would have been served if the wanted flyer disclosed whether or not a warrant had been issued for the individual?

Could the police departments have a practice of either having the flyers say there was or was not a warrant?

Ms. Kathryn A. Oberly:

They certainly could, Your Honor.

And flyers come, just like informant's tips, flyers come in all shapes and sizes.

John Paul Stevens:

Except that the police can control what they put in the flyers, but you can't control the informer's tips.

Ms. Kathryn A. Oberly:

Yes, Your Honor.

The testimony in this case was that this type of flyer is as common as a flyer that actually expressly indicates an arrest warrant has been issued; and that the Kentucky officers who made the stop found in their experience that this type of flyer generally was followed by an arrest warrant; and that one of the officers recalled having been told that a warrant would be forthcoming in this case.