The 'High-Crime Area' Question: Requiring Verifiable and Quantifiable Evidence for Fourth Amendment Reasonable Suspicion Analysis

58 Pages Posted: 18 Sep 2008

See all articles by Andrew Guthrie Ferguson

Andrew Guthrie Ferguson

American University Washington College of Law

Damien Bernache

affiliation not provided to SSRN

Date Written: August 15, 2008


This article proposes a legal framework to analyze the "high crime area" concept in Fourth Amendment reasonable suspicion challenges.

Under existing Supreme Court precedent, reviewing courts are allowed to consider that an area is a "high crime area" as a factor to evaluate the reasonableness of a Fourth Amendment stop. See Illinois v. Wardlow, 528 U.S. 119 (2000). However, the Supreme Court has never defined a "high crime area" and lower courts have not reached consensus on a definition. There is no agreement on what a "high-crime area" is, whether it has geographic boundaries, whether it changes over time, whether it is different in different parts of the country, whether there are different types of "high-crime areas," or who determines that an area is, in fact, a higher crime area. Yet, after Wardlow, the concept has taken on controlling significance in determining the constitutional protections of citizens located in certain neighborhoods.

Because new crime-mapping technology exists to generate objective and verifiable data on crime rates in particular areas, this article proposes requiring the government to introduce this information in Fourth Amendment suppression hearings. The goal is to provide guidance on how to establish a meaningful "high crime area" definition for Fourth Amendment purposes.

This article proposes a three-part framework to identify a high crime area based on objective and quantifiable evidence. First, the "high crime area" in question would have to be marked by a higher incidence of particularized criminal activity than other areas of the jurisdiction. Second, the area at issue would have to be tailored to a specific geographic location and limited to a recent temporal finding of criminal activity. Finally, there would have to be a demonstrated nexus between the police officer's knowledge about a defined area and the reasonableness of the officer's observations in that area. In this way there will a verifiable, particularized, and relevant definition of this important Fourth Amendment concept. The article concludes that this type of data driven analysis is the only way to make sure individual liberty is protected in all jurisdictions.

Keywords: Fourth Amendment, reasonable suspicion, probable cause, Terry, Terry stop, high crime area, high-crime, high drug area, crime mapping, data driven policing, technology and crime, civil rights, constitutional law, search and seizure, Wardlow

Suggested Citation

Ferguson, Andrew Guthrie and Bernache, Damien, The 'High-Crime Area' Question: Requiring Verifiable and Quantifiable Evidence for Fourth Amendment Reasonable Suspicion Analysis (August 15, 2008). American University Law Review, Vol. 57, pp. 1587-1644, 2008, Available at SSRN:

Andrew Guthrie Ferguson (Contact Author)

American University Washington College of Law ( email )

4300 Nebraska Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20016
United States

Damien Bernache

affiliation not provided to SSRN ( email )

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics