Can You Be Arrested in Arizona on a “Hunch?”

SuspicionLaw enforcement in Peoria recently announced a new tool they intend to deploy in their fight against crime. “Hunchlab” is a program that is intended to tell officers where a crime is more likely to occur based upon various statistics and historical information. Officers who spoke with FOX 10 in Phoenix claimed the tool was designed to help prevent crime but would not lead to officers descending on a particular area and making arrests of everyone they observed in the area, even if the area was designated as having a high probability of crime by Hunchlab. Do Arizona citizens have anything to fear from law enforcement agencies who use Hunchlab and similar programs?

The Difference Between a “Hunch” and “Reasonable Suspicion”

The vast majority of arrests begin with an officer pulling a suspect’s vehicle over to the side of the road or stopping the suspect in a public place and engaging the suspect in conversation. Encounters begun in this fashion can lead to an arrest where an officer develops probable cause to believe the suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime or were the suspect has had a warrant issued for his or her arrest. An officer does not need probable cause to pull a car over to the side of the road or stop someone in public to briefly ask them questions, however. All that is required is that the officer have reasonable suspicion.

What is reasonable suspicion? The law describes reasonable suspicion as something more than a “hunch,” but something less than probable cause. The key difference between a hunch and reasonable suspicion lies in what each is based upon. Reasonable suspicion is a belief that a crime has been committed, is in the process of being committed, or is about to be committed because of objective facts and observations made by the officer. A hunch, on the other hand, is based on the inferences an officer might draw based on his or her experience or training but that are not based on any objective facts. Regardless of whether the officer’s hunch or gut instincts turn out to be true, an officer is not ever entitled to stop a moving car or momentarily detain a person in a public place based on a hunch.

What are Examples of Improper Hunches?

A hunch may include a belief that a suspect has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime that is based upon:

  • The physical appearance of the suspect (unless there is a valid and appropriate tip upon which the officer is relying);
  • Where the suspect is found. In other words, the mere fact that a person is found in a place Hunchlab says is ripe for criminal activity would not be enough to stop a car leaving the area;
  • The officer’s “gut instinct” that the suspect is doing something criminal.

Any time the officer’s decision to stop a moving car or detain an individual for questioning is not supported by reasonable suspicion, any evidence the officer subsequently discovers during the course of his or her investigation may be successfully omitted from a court hearing or trial.