Does a suspicion of a traffic violation qualify as a Terry stop?    

Expert Answers

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No it does not. Traffic violations are considered "civil infractions" rather than crimes, and the ability of the police to "stop and frisk" under Terry vs. Ohio specifically applies to suspected crimes, which means misdemeanors or felonies. (I've given as an example a very cogent explanation of the difference under Massachusetts law; while it does vary by state, it's generally about the same.)

This is also why if you are asked on a job application "Have you ever been convicted of a crime?" you can (and should) answer "No" if you've only been fined for traffic violations.

The reason for this is twofold: It's generally agreed that traffic violations are not as serious a harm as actual crimes, and also most people are guilty of some traffic violations at some point in their lives, so if that counted as a crime we would all be criminals.

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