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CRIMINAL LAW 7: Was initial contact with defendant a Terry stop?

Original Post: 03/12/2018


An officer searches a suspect using the terry stop or stop and frisk policy.When is an interaction with an officer questionable?

There are some approaches officers are allowed to take when approaching a citizen. In this case, the officer in question may have used a terry stop to make initial contact with the defendant. Keep reading to learn more about the case and more about Terry Stops. 

What is a Terry Stop or Stop and Frisk Technique?

If you haven't heard of a Terry Stop, maybe you have heard of the more common "stop and frisk" policy. Don't worry, they are the same policy. Under this ruling, an officer who has "reasonable suspicion" that someone is a criminal, they can search them. 

Example of a Case Involving a Terry Stop

The police officer was patrolling an industrial part of the town in an unmarked vehicle on a dirt road when he observed defendant’s vehicle, driving 25 to 30 miles below the speed limit, turning into a closed landscaping business. Officer called for backup, and approximately 10 minutes later, a uniformed officer arrived in a marked police car. The two officers entered the landscaping business and found defendant standing outside his vehicle in the parking lot. As the officers approached, defendant told them that they were on private property, that he was an employee of the business, and asked them to leave.

When the officers approached defendant, he showed them an identification card indicating that he was an employee of the business, and explained that he was picking up some equipment for the morning. However, while engaging in this interaction, Officer noticed that defendant was speaking slowly, almost slurring his words, and was visibly shaking. The officer concluded that defendant was under the influence of drugs or alcohol. After defendant failed several of the standard sobriety tests, he was placed under arrest for impaired driving. His car was searched thereafter, and approximately 12 hydrocodone tablets were found in a prescription bottle in defendant’s vehicle.

Defendant was ultimately charged with operating a vehicle while intoxicated, possession of a controlled substance, and operating a vehicle on a suspended or revoked license. Defendant then moved to suppress all evidence stemming from his arrest on the grounds that the evidence was obtained during an unconstitutional search and seizure.

The fact that the officers subjected defendant to a Terry stop does not automatically lead to the conclusion that the stop violated the Fourth Amendment.  Whether an officer has a reasonable suspicion to make such an investigatory stop is determined case by case, on the basis of an analysis of the totality of the facts and circumstances.

The prosecution points to the following facts in order to demonstrate reasonable suspicion.  First, that this was a “directed patrol” and that there had recently been burglaries in the area. Second, that defendant was driving unusually slowly on an empty, unlit dirt road at about 12:30 a.m. Third, that defendant entered a business that was closed and did so at a time during which it was very unlikely that business would be conducted and remained there for over 10 minutes, which was when the police entered.

The court concluded that given the facts of this case, driving unusually slowly in an isolated area and then entering into a closed and gated business in the early morning hours was sufficient to reasonably suspect that defendant might be engaged in criminal activity and to conduct a brief investigatory stop.

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