terry stop criminal defense attorney stephen p. shepard in towson, md

What is a Terry Stop?

A Terry stop refers to a brief detention or stop of an individual by a law enforcement officer, based on reasonable suspicion that the person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime. The name comes from the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court case, Terry v. Ohio, which established that a police officer can conduct a brief investigative detention or frisk of a person if they have reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in criminal activity.

During a Terry stop, the police officer may briefly detain and question the individual to determine if they have any involvement in criminal activity. The officer may also conduct a pat-down search for weapons or contraband if they have reasonable suspicion that the individual is armed and dangerous. The purpose of a Terry stop is to allow law enforcement to investigate potential criminal activity without arresting the person or violating their Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable searches and seizures.

The Case of Terry v. Ohio

Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968) was a landmark U.S. Supreme Court case decided in 1968 that established the principle of “stop and frisk” by law enforcement officers. The case involved John W. Terry, who was observed by a police officer walking back and forth in front of a store in a manner that the officer deemed suspicious. The officer, Martin McFadden, approached Terry, identified himself as a police officer, and frisked him, discovering a handgun.

Terry was charged with carrying a concealed weapon, but his attorney argued that the search was unconstitutional and violated Terry’s Fourth Amendment rights. The case ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which held that a police officer may briefly detain a person for investigative purposes if the officer has reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot, and may conduct a limited pat-down search of the person’s outer clothing for weapons if the officer has a reasonable belief that the person is armed and dangerous.

The Court reasoned that such brief detentions and searches do not constitute a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, as long as the officer has a reasonable suspicion based on specific and articulable facts that the person may be involved in criminal activity. This ruling established the legal framework for “stop and frisk” practices used by law enforcement officers in the United States.

Limitations on a Terry Stop

While a Terry stop-and-frisk is a recognized legal practice, there are limitations on how and when law enforcement officers can use it. Some of the limitations on a Terry stop-and-frisk include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Reasonable Suspicion Required: The policed officer must have reasonable suspicion that the person is involved in criminal activity. This means that the officer must be able to articulate specific facts that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the individual is engaged in criminal activity.
  • Limited Duration and Scope: The Terry stop must be brief and the scope of the search must be limited to a pat-down of the individual’s outer clothing for weapons only. The police officer cannot search beyond what is necessary to ensure their safety.
  • Racial Profiling Prohibited: The Terry stop cannot be based on the individual’s race or ethnicity. Police officers cannot use race or ethnicity as the sole basis for their suspicion.
  • Consent Searches: If a police officer asks for permission to search an individual or their property during a Terry stop-and-frisk, the individual must voluntarily consent to the search. The officer cannot coerce, threaten, or intimidate the individual into giving their consent.

It is important to note that the limitations on a Terry stop-and-frisk are subject to interpretation and can be the subject of legal challenges. If an individual believes that their Fourth Amendment rights have been violated during a Terry stop-and-frisk, they may seek legal recourse to challenge the constitutionality of the search.

Criminal Defense Attorney in Towson, MD

Our Baltimore County, MD criminal defense law firm in Towson, MD has experience challenging the constitutionality of a Terry stop-and-frisk. Contact our office today to schedule a consultation with a criminal defense attorney if you or a loved one have been accused of a crime.

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