Routine Warrant or Name Checks During Terry Stops Comply with Fourth Amendment

March 26, 2020

Recently, in Hall v. City of Chicago, ___ F.3d ___ (7th Cir. 2020), the police stopped plaintiffs for panhandling and, during the course of the stops, asked for identification. The officers then used the identification cards to search for outstanding arrest warrants or investigative alerts (called “warrant checks” or “name checks”). The officers would not return the cards until the checks were complete. Plaintiffs filed a Section 1983 civil rights suit alleging that the checks unnecessarily prolonged the stops and that the delays were unreasonable in violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Seventh Circuit disagreed and upheld summary judgment for the officers. Running a warrant check does not exceed the permissible scope of Terry v. Ohio even if the check is unrelated to the reason for the stop. Therefore, the delay is permissible without separate articulable suspicion as long as the delay itself is reasonable. The rationale is that the warrant check is rationally related to officer safety. Since most of the warrant checks took four to seven minutes (with one outlier at 15 minutes), no jury could conclude that the delays were objectively unreasonable.

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