The U.S. Court of Appeals here upheld yesterday the arrest and conviction of a man who aroused a police officer's suspicion because of his clothing and his manner during an aborted transaction at a bank teller's window.
The police offer followed the poorly dressed man from the bank, became even more suspious when the man, said he had no identification and asked the man to accompany him back to the bank. At the bank, the officer discovered the man had attempted to withdraw $400 from someone else's savings account and possessed documents that made the attempt plausible.
The man, Robert S. Wylie, was convicted of possessing stolen bank documents and was sentenced by U.S. District Judge William B. Bryant to 30 months in prison. He argued on appeal that he was improperly brought back to the bank for the confrontation that led to his arrest because the police did not have probable cause to stop and arrest him.
In a 2-to-1 opinion written by U.S. Circuit Judge Carl A. McGowan, the appeals court said, "It is our view that the police conduct at issue here involved a proper progression of escalating responses to circumstances which generated a mounting degree of suspicion that a crime had occurred." U.S. Circuit Judge Malcolm Wilkey agreed with McGowan.
U.S. Circuit Judge Spottswood Robinson III disagreed, saying that the majority's ruling "offers no haven for the absent-minded. At bottom, it means that one must always remember to carry personal identification when setting out for the bank."
While praising the "dedication" of the officer who was "endeavoring conscientiously to do his job as best he can, constitutionally that is beside the point," Robinson said.
He said the officer had no grounds for taking the customer back to the bank, saying he should have let him go after he said he had no identification. Because this was so, Robinson concluded, the subsequent search that turned up the stolen documents was illegal.
He said that a bank customer's lack of identification could be "attributable to carelessness, absent-mindedness or sheer ignorance of the mechanics of withdrawal" from a savings account, and does not automatically make him a suspected criminal.