The Fourth Amendment of the Constitution protects U.S. citizens from unlawful search and seizure by law enforcement officers, but the definition of what exactly constitutes an illegal search has changed quite a bit in the past few decades. Perhaps no change has had greater ramifications on how the average person interacts with police than Terry stops.
What is a Terry Stop?
Terry stops, also known as stop and frisks get their name from the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court case Terry v.Ohio. The case involved a police officer stopping and frisking two men he suspected of pickpocketing. The officer located concealed weapons on the men, and at trial they moved to suppress the evidence as illegally obtained.
When the case reached the Supreme Court, the justices held that police may detain individuals who they have a reasonable suspicion are involved in criminal activity. The Court also held that police may pat down the outer garments of a suspect if there is a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the suspect is armed and dangerous.
When is a Terry Stop Illegal?
The first limitation on Terry stops is that police must have reasonable suspicion to initiate them. More often than not, however, it is questionable whether police in Illinois properly initiate Terry stops. The ACLU of Illinois found that in 2014 Chicago police stopped and likely frisked more than 250,000 people, but made no arrests and issued no citations from these stops.
The second limitation on Terry stops is that police are not automatically entitled to go on a fishing expedition for contraband. If a weapon or drugs are obviously discovered in the course of a stop and frisk, this evidence is admissible in court, but police may not conduct a lengthy and intrusive pat down to search for these items. Police are limited to a pat down that would discover a weapon.
Finally, while there is no set time limit on how long a Terry stop may last, with courts instead relying on a reasonableness standard, police are not authorized to engage in a Terry stop that lasts for hours upon hours. At some point the police must determine whether the stop has given them probable cause to make an arrest. If no probable cause exists, the suspect must be released.
A Terry stop must meet all of these requirements in order to produce evidence that is admissible in court. If the stop is lacking in any of these ways, it may be grounds to dismiss the charges or have a conviction set aside on appeal.
Need Legal Help?
While the police are responsible for protecting the public, that never gives them the right to violate the civil rights of innocent civilians. If police inappropriately performed a Terry Stop on you or held you for an excessively long period of time in order to discover evidence against you, you may have a viable legal claim for to seek an appeal of your conviction. For more information, contact the Chicago offices of Barney & Hourihane today for a consultation.
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