Whether they learned it in school or from watching police shows on television, most people have a basic understanding that there are constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure by law enforcement officers. However, if an officer proceeds to search the clothing you’re wearing and the backpack you’re carrying, the stress of the situation can make it impossible to know if the officer violated your rights – even though it certainly feels like they were.
An officer must have probable cause to search a person or their property if they don’t have a warrant. They can’t just “stop and frisk” someone for no reason – although a Terry stop is permissible.
What is a Terry stop?
In 1968, the U.S. Supreme Court determined in Terry v. Ohio that law enforcement could legally do a “pat down” over their clothing if they reasonably believed someone had or was about to commit a crime. The pat-down is justified to see if the person is carrying a weapon before the officer begins questioning the suspect – the officer also must have a reasonable suspicion that a person is armed and dangerous.
Because this kind of search is legal, any evidence of criminal activity found during the initial investigation, like illegal drugs, can be used against a person.
The details are important
The specifics of a Terry stop can seem no different than an illegal search and seizure, so it is essential to recall the details of the stop and arrest as accurately as possible. The defendant can then share this information with their criminal defense attorney. These legal professionals understand the importance of probable cause, the Terry stop, and an illegal stop and frisk.
If the case goes to trial, they can cross-examine the officer to determine their motive for the stop. Comparing the recollections with the officer’s can light irregularities or other details not on the arrest report. For these reasons and others, it is essential for those charged after a stop to work with an experienced criminal defense attorney.