Is It Legal for Police to Briefly Detain Me?

Police frequently conduct searches of individuals based on a reasonable suspicion.  A brief investigative detention based on a reasonable suspicion is called a “Terry Stop”.

What is Reasonable Suspicion?

Reasonable suspicion is a term that is used to refer to a police officer’s reasonably justifiable suspicion that a person had committed a crime or was in the process of committing one, or was about to commit one.  Where the officer believes that a crime may have been committed or is about to be committed, he or she may make a temporary detention of the suspect and may proceed to pat them down.

A Terry Stop is referencing the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court Case of Terry v. Ohio.  The U.S. Supreme Court found that it was legal for officers to conduct a pat down over an individual’s clothing to ensure that the individual that is being detained is unarmed.  The officers are limited to search only the areas that a detainee may hide weapons.  Although the police can conduct a limited search, any illegal substances or contraband they find can be seized and the detainee charged, as appropriate.

What was the Case of Terry v. Ohio about? 

Terry v. Ohio was a case involving a plain clothed officer who thought that he was witnessing two individuals casing a store.  After watching the two individuals for a while, the officer approached the men and he identified himself.  He also asked the men for their names.  During the exchange, the officer frisked the men and found a gun in the pocket of one of them.  The two men presented their case on appeal (eventually to the U.S. Supreme Court).   The two men argued that the officer’s search of them violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  The Court found that such a search could only be conducted where an officer had more than a “hunch”.  The Court went on to say that there had to be specific facts that would lead one to believe that those individuals were about to engage in an illegal activity.

What Does Reasonable Suspicion Mean to You?

Even though a Reasonable Suspicion may provide an officer with legal authority to detain you, where there is no Reasonable Suspicion, officers may not advise you that you are free to leave.  They are free to ask you questions, but you are not required to stay or to answer those questions.  In reality, you may be free to leave, but since you are not aware of that, any conversation that takes place with the police is considered voluntary.  It is up to the putative detainee to determine if he or she is free to leave.  In such a situation, an individual may ask if they are free to leave.  Refusing to answer the officer’s question does not allow the officer to assume that there is reasonable suspicion.  If you determine that you are not free to leave based upon the officer’s answer, it is important to advise the officer that you are going to remain silent and that you would like to see a lawyer.  Officers may re-initiate the conversation, but you are not required to say anything, which the author believes is excellent advice.

How Can an Experienced Criminal Attorney Help You if You Have Been Arrested Following a Terry Stop?

If you have been arrested following a Terry Stop, an experienced criminal defense attorney can help determine if the stop was legal or not.  If the officer’s suspicion was not reasonable, then it may be possible to have any evidence obtained during the stop prohibited from being used against you.  An experienced criminal attorney can help develop a strategy that could result in a reduced charge or plea agreement that is in your best interest.  Call the Law Office of David M. Goldman, PLLC, and speak to an experienced criminal attorney to understand your rights.  Call (904) 990-8000 for a free initial consultation today.

About the author

Neil Weinreb is a licensed Florida attorney who has been practicing in the area of criminal law for over 17 years in North Florida.  Mr. Weinreb works for the Law Office of David M. Goldman in Jacksonville, Florida.   Mr. Weinreb has worked as an adjunct professor teaching law to paralegal students at Jones College in Jacksonville, Florida.  You can contact Mr. Weinreb at the Law Office of David M. Goldman for a free initial consultation.  Mr. Weinreb has received the highest rating from Martindale Hubbell, AV Preeminent 2021.





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