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Police arrest car occupants for "loitering" and drug charges

Is the mere presence of a vehicle in a parking lot adjoining a public building at 2:55 a.m. enough to give the police reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot and therefore make a stop of the vehicle? The answer will in the end likely depend on all of the details and circumstances surrounding the stop. These issues are certain to come up regarding the recent arrest of four persons for loitering and drug charges under similar circumstances in a New Hampshire town.

They were reportedly in a vehicle that Hampton Police observed in the town office parking lot in the early morning hours of Aug. 15. Police say that they observed suspicious behavior, but the only behavior that the authorities mention is the existence of the vehicle in the parking lot with "no legitimate reason" for being there. The police press release stated that the lack of a legitimate reason for being in the parking lot "warranted alarm for the safety of property" in the area.

That is circular reasoning that arguably does not justify stopping the vehicle and that appears to contradict the requirements of New Hampshire's loitering law. When police stopped the vehicle after it left the parking lot, one of the passengers allegedly tried to flee when police went to arrest him, and he had to be Tasered. Authorities charged him with loitering, resisting arrest and reporting a false identification. A 22-year-old female passenger was arrested for loitering and reporting a false identification. Authorities charged the vehicle's driver with loitering and drug possession.

They charged another passenger with loitering and possession of heroin. The defendants appear to have a reasonably viable defense to the drug charges and other alleged offenses. The lack of reasonable suspicion to stop the car in the first place puts all subsequent police actions in doubt. In addition, the New Hampshire law on loitering requires more than the mere existence of the car in a parking lot adjoining a public building. There is arguably no justification for the loitering suspicion under the provisions of the loitering statute nor for the loitering charges that followed.

Source: unionleader.com, "Police: Drug charges stem from loitering at Hampton town offices", Kimberley Haas, Aug. 16, 2017

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