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What is a Terry Stop in Medina County?

Posted on in Criminal Defense

A veteran Ohio police officer observing two men engaging in conduct that, in the officer’s opinion, appeared suspicious in nature resulted in a landmark ruling by the United States Supreme Court in 1968. The decision in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968) authorized an investigative procedure that law enforcement officers in Wadsworth, Medina and Brunswick rely upon on a daily basis.

Basic Elements of a Terry stop

A Terry stop, or a stop and frisk, involves the temporary detention of an individual and a pat down of clothing to rule out the presence of weapons. The purpose of the stop is to allow a police officer in Wadsworth, Medina and Brunswick to investigate by questioning a suspect about possible criminal activity.

What sets the Terry stop apart from an arrest is the absence of probable cause that is usually required to detain someone. In Terry v. Ohio, the Supreme Court ruled that an investigative stop can be conducted without probable cause as long as the officer has reasonable suspicion to believe that criminal activity might be present.

The Court defined reasonable suspicion as the belief based upon the observations of a reasonably prudent police officer based upon experience and training that an individual might be involved in criminal activity. Probable cause requires the officer to have articulable facts and circumstances establishing in the mind of a reasonably prudent person that an individual has committed or is committing a crime in Wadsworth, Medina and Brunswick.

Steps Officers Follow in a Terry Stop

A Terry stop is the equivalent of the pause button on the remote control of a DVD player that temporarily freezes the action to give a police officer an opportunity to investigate. Initiating the stop begins with the officer identifying himself to the suspect. This is followed by a brief period of questioning during which the officer either becomes satisfied that no criminal activity is involved or that the suspect is committing, has committed or is about to commit a crime.

If the officer is satisfied that the suspect is not engaged in criminal activity, the stop ends with no further action. If the questioning leads the officer to believe that the suspect is engaged in criminal activity, the officer can make an arrest based upon probable cause.

During the stop, the police cannot remove the suspect from the scene. Forcing a person to go with a police officer is a restriction on that person’s right to move about freely and would violate the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution unless the officer had probable cause to make an arrest.

The Frisk in a Terry Stop

If a police officer in Wadsworth, Medina and Brunswick believes a person stopped for questioning might be armed, the Supreme Court authorized a light pat down of the individual’s outer clothing. If the officer feels a gun, knife or other weapon, the officer may reach into the suspect’s pocket to retrieve it.

Because an officer making a Terry does not have probable cause to search the person for evidence when the stop is first initiated, an officer who reaches into a pocket, purse or other hidden area would be doing so without probable cause. This would be a violation of the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures. The frisk associated with a Terry stop is a protective procedure to safeguard the officer during the question of the suspect in Wadsworth, Medina and Brunswick.

Answering Questions During a Terry Stop

People stopped by the police under the procedures authorized in Terry v. Ohio generally do not have to answer questions posed by the officers, but Ohio law creates an exception to the general rule. Individuals stopped by the police in a public place must identify themselves by name, address and date of birth. Failure to do so could subject a person to arrest.

What to do When a Terry Stop Leads to an Arrest

If the brief detention and questioning of an investigative stop leads to probable cause with a police officer believing that a crime has been committed, a custodial arrest might take place. Unlike a Terry stop, a custodial arrest involves handcuffs and a total restriction on the suspect’s freedom of movement.

Whether the detention is a brief investigative stop or a custodial arrest, the best course of action for you to take is to be respectful and cooperative, but make it clear that you want to speak to an attorney before answering any questions. If you are arrested, you have the right to speak to an attorney before answering questions posed by police officers.

Police officers and detectives in Medina, Brunswick and Wadsworth are trained to obtain incriminating statements from people during investigative stops or arrests. Except for identifying yourself during a stop in a public place, refusing to answer questions will not lead to additional penalties. In fact, answering questions while you are in custody and without seeking the advice of an attorney might give the police evidence to use against you and could make it more difficult for your attorney to defend you.

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