January 13, 2022
On February 18, 2017, Otha Ray Flowers was sitting in a car with a friend of his in front of a convenience store in Jackson, Mississippi. There is nothing illegal about that.
Unfortunately for Flowers, however, the store happened to be situated in what law enforcement called a “high crime area.” After watching Flowers and the passenger sitting in the vehicle for literally fifteen seconds, five police cars — five! — converged on his vehicle, making it impossible for him to leave. It was discovered that Flowers, a convicted felon, was in possession of a firearm and (horrors) marijuana. He was charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm and was convicted at trial.
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals found nothing wrong with the stop and seizure, though one has to wonder whatever happened to our friend the Fourth Amendment — remember that? The one that prohibits “unreasonable searches and seizures”? Apparently, the presence of a motor vehicle in a “high crime area” means that the Fourth Amendment’s protections are suspended. As the dissent noted, “For citizens to become suspects, they must do more than merely exist in an ‘unsavory’ neighborhood.”
Flowers has appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Court has not yet indicated whether it will take the case.