Is Running from the Police Unlawful?

What if the officer has no suspicion of criminal activity, but the officer observes a person and tells him to stop. The person takes off running. Has the person committed a crime of Resist, Delay, and Obstruct?

In State v. White, officers received a report of loud music in a high crime area:

The State’s evidence tended to show the following. On the 2:00 p.m. to midnight shift of 15 August 2008, Detective Brian Edwards and Sergeant Jack Austin of the Southern Pines Police Department were on patrol in an unmarked white Dodge Durango. Sometime after dark, the officers received a report from dispatch complaining of loud music near the corner of Coates Street and Shaw Avenue. Although this location is at the center of Brookside Park Apartments, the report did not identify the apartment complex or a specific apartment within it as the source of the music complaint, nor did it identify the person who made the complaint. Additionally, Coates Street intersects Shaw Avenue at two locations, but the report did not specify either intersection as the subject of the loud music complaint.

Detective Edwards testified that he had been to the Brookside Park Apartments on “several occasions throughout the evening” and had made between fifty and one hundred drug arrests there in the past. He also stated he was aware of other arrests made at that location by other officers of his department, and thus he believed it to be a high-crime area.

Responding to the loud music complaint, Detective Edwards saw three or four men, including Defendant, standing near a dumpster near the intersection of Coates and Shaw Streets. The officer did not recognize any of these men, but decided to question them about the loud music. As Detective Edwards turned from Shaw Avenue on to Coates Street, he stopped his vehicle about thirty-five feet from the men and on the opposite side of the dumpster.

The officers were dressed in cargo pants and blue polo shirts with “Police” written in black letters on the back and an embroidered badge on the front left chest. The officers’ car was unmarked with no labels, decals, or exterior lights. Detective Edwards testified that as he was exiting the vehicle and turning to close the door, he heard Sergeant Austin yell, “Stop! Police[,]” and he “took off running around the back side of the vehicle.” Detective Edwards then “ran to the opposite side of the Dumpster so [he] could see[,]” and observed Sergeant Austin chasing a black male up Shaw Avenue. Detective Edwards gave pursuit behind Sergeant Austin.

The officer found a baggy of crack cocaine after tackling and handcuffing the defendant. The NC Court of Appeals held that the arrest for RDO was illegal because there was no probable cause to arrest because the defendant was free to ignore the police officer’s command to stop. The defendant had no obligation to stop. He had a right to flee.

State v. Joe is a similar case resulting in an illegal arrest for an RDO.

Running may contribute to reasonable suspicion to conduct a Terry Stop, where there are enough other facts to suggest criminal activity is permitted.

The Court of Appeals seems to view the attempt to justify a stop on running as a bad approach by the State.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.