When can a police officer stop and frisk you before you're arrested?
A police officer's right to stop and frisk was allowed by the United States Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio. If an officer reasonably believes that a suspect is armed and dangerous, the officer can perform a weapons pat down for the purposes of officer safety.
Of course, the Terry frisk has been subject to abuse by some members of law enforcement. Often times, a police officer will use the Terry frisk as a pretext to search for contraband, such as drugs. However, the United States Supreme Court has found that the purpose of a Terry frisk is for officer safety and NOT to gather evidence. Thus, a Terry frisk may only consist of a pat down of the outer clothing. Asking a suspect to unzip his jacket, for example, goes beyond the scope of a Terry frisk.
However, the United States Supreme Court has held that there is a "plain-feel" exception to a Terry frisk. If an officer is performing a pat down of the suspect's outer clothing and it is immediately apparent that the officer feels contraband, the officer may seize the contraband.
The standards and rules for a Terry frisk go far beyond what is mentioned here. If you are stopped and an officer seizes contraband, call Ascheman & Smith immediately. We will attempt to get the evidence suppressed and have your case dismissed.
Always remember: regardless of guilt, you have constitutional rights that must be protected.
Grant S Smith, Esq.
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