The “Terry Stop” and “Reasonable Suspicion”

Was Your Search Legal?

Many people believe that a police officer must see you in the act of a crime in order to stop you and ask you some questions. The truth is, all that the officer needs is to see something that he reasonably believes to be suspicious. A “Terry Stop” is a stop of a person by law enforcement officers based upon “reasonable suspicion” that a person may have been engaged in criminal activity. As you may recall, in order for an officer to legally arrest a suspect, the officer must have “probable cause” that the suspect committed a criminal offense. This distinction that is taught throughout the country to law students comes from standards established in a famous 1968 case, Terry v. Ohio.

The case discussed whether an officer may detain a person without probable cause, and perform a limited search of the person for weapons. In the end, the Court found that a police officer may in fact perform this search, justified by the officers concern for his own safety and those nearby. The officer does not need probably cause to perform this search, and any weapons (and other evidence) discovered during the legal execution of this search can be introduced into evidence.

Suppose a police officer sees a person acting in an unusual manner, such as pacing outside a convenience store/bank, and this observation leads to reasonably suspect a possibility that criminal activity is or may occur. In such an instance, the officer may approach the suspected person. If he has a concern that the person(s) may be armed and presently dangerous, the officer may briefly detain the subjects. The officer must identify himself or herself as a police officer and may make reasonable inquiries. After an initial questioning an investigation into the person(s) behavior, if the officer still has a reasonable suspicion/fear for the safety of himself and others, they may carefully perform a limited search of the outer clothing. This is performed in an attempt to discover weapons that might be used to assault him or her. The officer may not look in any closed containers, or place his hands inside pockets of the clothing, unless during the initial pat-down, he discovers something that he reasonably believes to be a weapon, or drug paraphernalia.

The “Terry Stop” is an issue that is often discussed in the courts. Questioning the legality of an officers search is always an area that attorneys must consider in their clients cases. Being able to recognize and distinguish the difference between a reasonable suspicion and probable cause can be the difference between a guilty and not guilty.

Our Criminal Attorney has the training and experience to identify these issues and properly defend our clients. If you believe you have been the victim of an illegal search and seizure, and are facing criminal charges as a result, CONTACT US immediately. Fred Antenberg will sit down with you during your FREE CONSULTATION to discuss whether you may have been the victim of an officer’s illegal search. Give Fred a call at 410-730-4404.