The 2-3-4 Rule

Below is the 2-3-4 rule. The “2” is for the two types of legal authority possessed by a peace officer. In order to detain a citizen either of the authorities must be in play. The “3” is for the three tiers of police-citizen encounters as outlined by the courts, and the “4” list the four ways in which a peace officer may legally enter a dwelling.

Two Types of Legal Authority (LA)

  • Reasonable Articulable Suspicion (RAS):  A set of facts and circumstances that would lead a reasonable and prudent peace officer based on his or her knowledge, training, and experience to believe that criminal activity is afoot.  Case Reference: Ornelas v. US, 517 US 691, 95-5259 (1996)
  • Probable Cause (PC):  A set of facts and circumstances that would lead a reasonable and prudent person when using all of their senses to believe that a crime has been or is about to be committed by the suspected person.  IMPORTANT NOTE per Wagner v. State, 206 Ga.App. 180, 424 S.E.2d 861 (1992): The mere fact that someone calls the police does not constitute probable cause.

Three Types of Police-Citizen Encounters

  • Verbal/Consensual Encounter (Tier 1):  No legal authority is needed to approach a citizen.  The encounter must be voluntary on the part of the citizen, and the officer must display no show of authority other than to identify him or herself as a peace officer.  An officer may ask for consent to search during a verbal encounter.  Case References: Florida v. Bostic, 501 US 429; US v. Baker, 01-16585 (2002)
  • Investigatory Detention/Brief Stop (Tier 2):  An officer must have RAS to make an investigative stop.  The suspect can only be held for a reasonable amount of time.  Barring any other RAS or PC developed during the stop, the officer must release the suspect once the officer’s initial suspicion has been satisfied and all identification checks have been made.  NOTE:  An officer may handcuff a suspect during a brief stop only when necessary for the officer’s, the public’s, or the suspect’s safety.  The suspect must be advised that they are not under arrest.  An officer may frisk for weapons if the officer has RAS that the suspect is armed and presents a threat.  Case References: Terry v Ohio, 392 US 1 (1968); United Sates v. Arvizu, 534 U.S. 266 (2002)
  • Arrest (Tier 3): An officer must have PC to make an arrest.  The officer should conduct a search incident to arrest.  The officer must take the suspect before a judge and must read the suspect his/her Miranda warning if the suspect is questioned after being taken into custody.

Four Legal Ways to Enter a Dwelling

  • Consent:  Consent can only be obtained from the owner of the property to be searched, someone with valid authority of the property, or someone with valid control over the property (in that order).  Consent can be given verbally or written.  The burden of proving consent is on the peace officer, and consent can be withdrawn at any time (must maintain contact) or may be qualified consent.
  • Warrant/Court Order: An officer can enter a suspect’s home to arrest the suspect if the officer has a warrant for the arrest of the suspect and the officer reasonably believes the suspect to be in the dwelling.  Case Reference: Payton v. New York, 445 U.S. 573 (1980)
  • Exigent Circumstances: An officer may enter a dwelling without a warrant when exigent circumstances exist.  Examples include situations where an officer has to enter in order to prevent death or injury to those inside of the dwelling, to prevent the destruction of evidence, or to prevent the immediate escape of a suspect.
  • Hot Pursuit: The officer must be pursuing the suspect for an arrestable offense.  The suspect must know that he or she is being pursued, and the suspect must be in actual flight.


Note:  I first saw this original framework in materials from my agency’s FTO program.  Wally Marchant, then an instructor at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center, is the likely originator of the “2-3-4 Rule”.  I took the original framework and added in the case references and notes to create this format.


  1. Excellent summary! I would suggest adding a few lines to the paragraph on RAS to help folks understand the difference between RAS and mere suspicion.

    1. Lee I know what concealed carry means but , you mean to tell me that If you wanted to open carry you can do so just about anywhere you wanted to .Sorry maybe I’m missing something here !

    1. J. Lee Weems, you seem like a man of honor and dignity. Great info on your site. I can not cite the case number right now, but I believe I have read U.S. Supreme Court Opinion that stated that a landlord can not give consent to enter a dwelling, only the tenant can give consent.

  2. Irrelevant to me (in the UK), but my initial thought was that it’d be nice to know if those are national or local. Great stuff, though.

    1. Wally isn’t the first place where I saw this particular material. One of my FTOs used to quiz me in this stuff constantly along with many other topics.

      Wally did teach a wonderful class where the 2-3-4 Rule was part of the material. I put it in this format with the case reference material inserted into when I helped write a training manual around 2003 or 2004. I discussed it with him then.

  3. I remember a certain instructor, Wally, taught the 2-3-4 Rule at GPSTC for many years. I thought Mr. M was the official author of the 2-3-4 Rule? It is most definitely a key operative instruction for breaking it down to simple terms of knowing the exacting authority an officer has, and how he/she can affect the authority, and to what extent that authority can be used to enter a dwelling. What gets me the most, is this Rule should be taught as basic officer curricula in Police Academies or Military LE courses.

    1. kinglionitus,

      Wally did a good job with that class. At one time he mentioned that he was going to be writing a text book that included the 2-3-4 Rule, but I am not certain whether he ever did or not.

  4. This info. keeps us ancient LEOs re-freshed and updated. Change is a way-of-life. i salute all professional LEOs. THANKS!!!

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