My question mainly pertains to descriptions law enforcement receives from individuals reporting a crime.

My example would be as follows:

Officer John receives complaint of irate black male with short hair wearing a white T-shirt and Jeans. He responds, but the person in question is no longer located at said location. He then spots an individual within a few thousand feet of said location. The state in which he is currently in does not require to show ID so long as no crimes have been committed. The black male refuses to show his ID card because he has been mistaken for someone else, making the argument that he has done nothing wrong.

The officer then explains that he must provide ID because his description fits what the officer was told and that he is within direct proximity of the area. Again the individual refuses and claims "Racial profiling". By reasoning of Vague and generalized interpretation of appearance.

He claims that many black individuals wear white T-shirts and jeans. This in and of itself is not a false statement. Does the officer have the right to arrest this individual? Perhaps even detain him at the least for simply fitting a description with such a vague amount of information?


In your example, there is nothing that indicates to me that there is a "particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of . . . criminal activity".

If you have described the totalilty of the circumstances, the officer does not have the right to arrest or detain the individual.

To your broader question about how specific descriptions must be in order to provide a basis for a stop, the assessment is based on the "totality of the circumstances". For example, an anonymous tip that "a woman would drive from a particular apartment building to a particular motel in a brown Plymouth station wagon with a broken right tail light [carrying cocaine]" was enough to warrant a stop. Alabama v. White, 496 U.S. 325 (1990)1

In contrast, the court "determined that no reasonable suspicion arose from a bare-bones tip that a young black male in a plaid shirt standing at a bus stop was carrying a gun." Florida v. J. L., 529 U. S. 266 (2000)

The “reasonable suspicion” necessary to justify such a stop “is dependent upon both the content of information possessed by police and its degree of reliability.” Navarette v. California 572 U.S. ___ (2014)

In any case, a crime must be part of the particularized suspicion.

1. This case focused on the indicia of reliability necessary for an anonymous tip to support a reasonable suspicion, but it is also an example of a degree of non-specificity in identification of a suspect.


The problem with your question is that the text does not match the question heading.

Are generalized descriptions of suspects considered lawfully admissable?

Let's say you are arrested. You're 5'2". You find that an eyewitness said nothing other than that the person who committed the crime was "very tall"

You can bet your bippy that you want such a vague description to be admissible.

Does the officer have the right to arrest this individual?

I would wager that most courts would find this is not sufficient probable cause for an arrest.

Perhaps even detain him at the least for simply fitting a description with such a vague amount of information?

I would also wager that most courts would find that this provides sufficient reasonable suspicion to make a stop.


I am not sure if it is legal for an officer to do so; however, in most jurisdictions, wherever a police officer has a reasonable believe that someone has or planning to commit a crime, he has the right to request him to present his ID or other identification documents. If he doesn't, he could be prosecuted for “Obstructing public officers in performing their duties.” When discussing if having such distributions count as “reasonable believe”, it depends on whether the description is too vague (which I think somehow, it is) and the environment of the whole occurrence (like the time the officer arrived the scene, whether it is a dead-end road, etc.) Could you provide more information about that?

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