Under the 4th Amendment, the Constitution guarantees that an individual is to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons. This is due to the fact that a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy from government intrusion. But what is considered an unreasonable search? Is a short detainment and frisk considered unreasonable in the eyes of the law?
Terry v. Ohio
In Terry v. Ohio, the Supreme Court considered the legal question of whether police officers are allowed to detain and frisk individuals. In this case, police officer Martin McFadden was patrolling his regular downtown beat. While on his patrol, McFadden observed two men engaged in an unusual ritual of repeatedly walking a circular pattern and stopping in front of certain stores. Based off of these observations, McFadden believed that the men were casing the stores in order to rob them. McFadden approached the men, asked them their names, and frisked them. While conducting the frisk, McFadden felt the shape of a gun, pulled it out, and arrested the men for carrying concealed weapons. At trial, the men argued that the search conducted by McFadden was unreasonable and in violation of the 4th Amendment. After hearing the arguments and legal theories of the case, the Supreme Court ruled that McFadden’s search was not unreasonable since he had reasonable suspicion the men were going to commit a crime and were armed.
Based off of Terry, police officers were given the right to detain an individual for a brief period of time and frisk the outside of a person’s clothing – commonly called a Terry stop and frisk. This detainment and frisking must be accompanied by reasonable suspicion on the part of the police officer. Reasonable suspicion means that the police officer must believe that the individual has or is going to commit a crime and may be armed and dangerous. However, the Supreme Court has limited this search by stating that the detainment must be brief in nature and the police officer is limited to frisking the outside of the individual’s clothes. Additionally, anything that the police officer feels while frisking the individual must be immediately identifiable as a weapon in order for a further search.
As you can see, police officers have the ability to use a Terry stop and frisk based on a relatively low standard of suspicion. Because of this low standard, there exists a potential for abuse on the part of police officers. As such, it important to know what police officers are and aren’t allowed to do when conducting a Terry stop and frisk in order to protect your rights. Although you shouldn’t argue with a police officer if you are being subjected to a Terry stop and frisk, being aware of any violations by the police officer will help your case tremendously.
If you or someone you know have been charged with a crime based off a Terry stop and frisk, it is important to consult with an experienced criminal defense attorney that can help zealously defend your case and possibly get the evidence excluded. Contact Us at Minick Law, P.C. for a free consultation on your case.