Welcome back to the second installment of my three-part series of Police Encounters. I am defense attorney, Leon Matchin, and I want to share information with you about what your rights are in certain situations when an officer confronts you with questions. If you missed last week’s blog on Part I: Field Inquiry, you can find it here.
The second type of police encounter is called a Terry Stop. Unlike a Field Inquiry, the individual is temporarily detained and is not free to leave. The police must be able to justify the stop based on a low “reasonable suspicion” standard that a violation is being committed. The time period that the stop takes place must be reasonable under the circumstances. The name of this encounter was dubbed so after the 1968 landmark decision of Terry v. Ohio in which the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment permits a law enforcement officer to stop, detain, and frisk a person who is suspected of criminal activity without first obtaining consent. This ruling also stated that the officer need not have a warrant for the search or probable cause necessary to make an arrest. That’s where the “reasonable suspicion” clause comes into play.
The most common type of Terry Stop is when the police pull over a vehicle for a traffic infraction. Typically, the police will issue a ticket and send the driver on his or her way unless they suspect further criminal activity. The most common instance of when a simple traffic stop turns into more than just a ticket is when the police suspect the driver has drugs in the car or is visibly intoxicated (under influence of drugs or alcohol) based on plain smell or plain view.
These types of police encounters should only last long enough for the officer to make their inquiry as to whether their suspicions were founded or not. That means that a stop, or the time they are detaining you, should be brief so as not to be interpreted as an arrest—which requires probable cause. Also note that because this is a “non-custodial seizure” (they are not arresting you, simply detaining you briefly), they are not obligated to advise you on your Miranda warnings prior to questioning.
If you find yourself in a situation like this—and in any contact with the police—be mindful of the information you are providing. A seemingly innocent comment could be potentially harmful or incriminating, regardless if you have or have not done something wrong. Also, know that an officer cannot arrest you because you refuse to answer questions while they have you stopped—you have the right to remain silent. Take down this number: (732) 662-7658. Call me, attorney Leon Matchin, immediately if you are in a position where you need legal representation.
This leads us to our next discussion of the final stage of Police Encounters, which is an arrest. Come visit me next week to learn more!