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What is a Terry Stop?

In the United States, a "Terry stop" is a brief detention of a person by police on reasonable suspicion of involvement in criminal activity but short of probable cause to arrest.  The name derives from Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that police may briefly detain a person whom they reasonably suspect is involved in criminal activity; the Court also held that police may do a limited search of the suspect's outer garments for weapons if they have a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the person detained may be "armed and dangerous".  When a search for weapons is authorized, the procedure is known as a stop and frisk.

To have reasonable suspicion that would justify a stop, police must be able to point to "specific and articulable facts" that would indicate to a reasonable person that a crime has been, is being, or is about to be committed. Reasonable suspicion depends on the "totality of the circumstances", and can result from a combination of facts, each of which is by itself innocuous.

The search of the suspect's outer garments, also known as a pat down, must be limited to what is necessary to discover weapons; however, pursuant to the plain feel doctrine, police may seize contraband discovered in the course of a frisk, but only if the contraband's identity is immediately apparent.

In some jurisdictions, persons detained under the doctrine of Terry must identify themselves to police upon request. In Hiibel v. Sixth Judicial District Court of Nevada, 542 U.S. 177 (2004), the Court held that a Nevada statute requiring such identification did not violate the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, or, in the circumstances of that case, the Fifth Amendment's privilege against self incrimination.

 A traffic stop is, for practical purposes, a Terry stop; for the duration of a stop, driver and passengers are "seized" within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. Under certain circumstances if the officer has probable cause to stop the vehicle, drivers and passengers may be ordered out of the vehicle without additional justification by the officer.  Drivers and passengers may be searched for weapons upon reasonable suspicion they are armed and dangerous. If police reasonably suspect the driver or any of the occupants may be dangerous and that the vehicle may contain a weapon to which an occupant may gain access, police may perform a protective search of the passenger compartment.

Without a warrant, probable cause, or the driver's consent, police may not search the vehicle, but under the "plain view" doctrine may seize and use as evidence weapons or contraband that are visible from outside the vehicle.

If you have been charged you should hire an attorney.  If you believe that you have been illegally stopped, this provides another defense to the charges.  For a consultation with a criminal defensse lawyer in Northern Kentucky, contact Michael Bouldin at mwbouldin2@gmail.com or call 859-581-6453 (581-MIKE).

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