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Michigan v. Chesternut, 486 U.S. 567 (1988)


Observing the approach of a police car on routine patrol, respondent began to run. The police followed him “to see where he was going,” and, after catching up with him and driving alongside him for a short distance, observed him discarding a number of packets. Surmising that the pills subsequently discovered in the packets contained codeine, the police arrested him and, after a search of his person revealed other drugs and a hypodermic needle, charged him with possession of controlled substances in violation of Michigan law. At a preliminary hearing, a Magistrate dismissed the charges on the ground that respondent had been unlawfully seized during the police pursuit preceding his disposal of the packets. The trial court upheld the dismissal, and the Michigan Court of Appeals affirmed. Applying state precedents interpreting the Fourth Amendment to the Federal Constitution, the latter court ruled that any “investigatory pursuit” amounts to a seizure under Terry v. Ohio, 392 U. S. 1, since the defendant’s freedom is restricted as soon as the officers begin their pursuit. The court also concluded that respondent’s flight from the police was insufficient, by itself, to give rise to the particularized suspicion necessary to justify this kind of seizure.

Held: The officers’ pursuit of respondent did not constitute a “seizure” implicating Fourth Amendment protections. Thus, the charges against him were improperly dismissed. Pp.  486 U. S. 572-576.

(a) No bright-line rule applicable to all investigatory pursuits can be fashioned. Rather, the appropriate test is whether a reasonable man, viewing the particular police conduct as a whole and within the setting of all of the surrounding circumstances, would have concluded that the police had in some way restrained his liberty so that he was not free to leave. Pp.  486 U. S. 572-574.

(b) Under this test, respondent was not “seized” before he discarded the drug packets. One officer’s characterization of the police conduct as a “chase,” standing alone, is insufficient to implicate the Fourth Amendment, since the police conduct — which consisted of a brief acceleration to catch up with respondent, followed by a short drive alongside him — would not have communicated to the reasonable person an attempt to capture him or otherwise intrude on his freedom of movement. The record does not reflect that the police activated a siren or flashers; commanded respondent to halt or displayed any weapons; or operated the 

Page 486 U. S. 568

car aggressively to block his course or to control his direction or speed. Thus, the police conduct was not so intimidating that respondent could reasonably have believed that he was not free to disregard the police presence and go about his business. The police therefore were not required to have a particularized and objective basis for suspecting him of criminal activity in order to pursue him. Pp.  486 U. S. 574-576.

157 Mich. App. 181, 403 N.W.2d 74, reversed and remanded.

BLACKMUN, J., delivered the opinion for a unanimous Court. KENNEDY, J., filed a concurring opinion, in which SCALIA, J., joined. 

Page 486 U. S. 569