May 222020

There’s no way to answer this question without knowing more facts about what police observed prior to chasing your son, where and when the case started, etc. The legal info below is general information and is no substitute for legal advice. Call our Philadelphia criminal law office for a free consultation. (215) 564-0644

Police Chasing Individuals on the Street in PA – Is it Legal?

Many drug possession and gun arrests start with police chasing an individual on the street. A police officer on routine patrol may see a person on the street walk away quickly as the officer approaches. Is the officer allowed to get out of the patrol car and chase after the person?  

In Philadelphia, if police violate constitutional rights of the accused, courts may suppress critical evidence, like the actual drugs or guns that were recovered due to the search or arrest. Without this evidence, prosecutors often agree to dismiss the charges, or at the very least, offer plea deals on lesser charges.  

Get more info, visit our Philadelphia Criminal Law Library.

Are Police Allowed to Chase Someone Who is Running or Walking Away?

The answer depends on the situation. Pennsylvania courts have held that people are free to walk away from and even run away from police on the street. There are only three occasions when police can chase someone who walks or runs away from them on the street.

  1. Police approach someone who runs/walks away in a high crime area.
  2. Police have reasonable suspicion of criminal activity involving the person who runs/walks away.
  3. Police have probable cause to make an arrest of the person who runs/walks away.

More: Pennsylvania Criminal Law – Running or Walking Away from Police 

Walking or Running Way in a High Crime Area

If an individual who is in a high crime area walks or runs away when an officer approaches on foot or in a patrol car, courts will side with the police. The U.S. Supreme Court and Pennsylvania courts have held that police have the legal authority to chase individuals who flee from police IF AND ONLY IF this happens in a high crime area. Officers are NOT allowed to chase individuals who flee in other areas, unless 2 or 3 above applies.

So, if an officer chases someone who walks away, and then arrests that person for dropping contraband, a court is likely to find that the chase was illegal and therefore the recovered contraband was obtained illegally and must therefore be suppressed from the case.  

Reasonable Suspicion or Probable Cause to Chase

If, before the chase starts, an officer has reasonable suspicion or probable cause to chase the person, the chase would be legal.

Reasonable suspicion is a reasonable belief that criminal activity might be occurring and therefore investigation is necessary. Reasonable suspicion must be based on facts. An officer’s vague hunch is not enough to justify reasonable suspicion.

Probable cause is a reasonable belief, based on clear facts, that the individual has committed or is about to commit a crime.