Field Inquiry

INTRODUCTION Police-citizen enounters fall into three categories. Each tier requires the State to establish a higher evidential threshold. This entry will describe the least intrusive and therefore the least burdensome encounter to justify.

With limited exceptions, a field inquiry may be conducted without grounds for suspicion. A field inquiry is the least intrusive encounter, and occurs when a cop approaches an individual and asks some questions. The person, however, need not answer any questions. Indeed, he may decline to listen to the questions and go on his way.

Cops train to prevent and detect crime. Events unnoticed by a layman ofttimes indicate to the trained eye that something amiss might be taking place or is about to happen. The cops would be derelict in their duties if they did not investigate such events. By that same token, judges are not required to exhibit naiveté from which ordinary citizens are free. Pennsylvania v. Dunlap, 555 U.S. ____ (2008) (Roberts, J., dissenting).

Essentially, cops may perform a field inquiry without reason to believe a crime already did, currently is, or soon will take place. But a cop who wants to investigate further will require greater justification. The principal issue is whether the police deny the individual the freedom to move.

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