You are on patrol when you receive a call of a robbery at a local gas station. Witnesses report a man entered the gas station, showed a black hand gun, and ordered the clerk to put all the money from the cash register in a bag. The clerk complied, putting money in a grey plastic bag and gave it to the robber. The robber left the store with the bag of money. Dispatch provides a description to you over the radio, describing the suspect as follows:Caucasian male with shoulder length, dyed green hair, tall (about 6'5"), wearing a blaze orange sweatshirt, yellow pants, and red high-top basketball shoes. When you are driving to the gas station, you observe a man walking on the sidewalk about a block from the gas station that was just robbed. The man matches the description of the robber provided to you by dispatch. You stop your patrol vehicle, get out and stop the man to speak to with him on the sidewalk. You do not handcuff him, but you grab him by the arm when he tries to walk by you on the sidewalk and do not let him walk away. You ask the man, "where's the money you robbed from the gas station?" In criminal justice, how would you describe this situation?
This type of suspect interaction is known as a Terry Stop.
The US Supreme Court set-out the basic requirements of a Terry Stop in the 1968 case Terry vs. Ohio. While the specifics of how Terry Stops must be conducted vary from state to state, in general, police officers can detain a person based on reasonable suspicion of involvement in a crime, which is a lower standard than probable cause (and a higher standard than mere suspicion).
Under a reasonable suspicion standard, the individual has to display specific mannerisms or characteristics that a reasonable person would conclude was possibly indicative of criminal activity. In the scenario, the individual matched a detailed witness description of a bank robber and was in close proximity to the bank that was robbed, meeting the standard of reasonable suspicion.
However, reasonable suspicion cannot be used to arrest or charge a person with a crime. In a Terry Stop, the law enforcement officer is only allowed to temporarily detain the suspect for the minimum amount of time necessary to conduct a perfunctory investigation, which is usually narrowly defined as including a non-invasive search (also known as a frisk), and an interrogation involving basic questions such as the individual's identity, home address, and their purpose for being in the area.
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