Stop Terry: Reasonable Suspicion, Race, and a Proposal to Limit Terry Stops
36 Pages Posted: 17 Dec 2013 Last revised: 6 Jan 2014
Date Written: 2013
The Terry doctrine, which grants a police officer the authority to stop and frisk based on his or her reasonable suspicion rather than probable cause, was created by the Supreme Court at a time when the nation confronted a particular moment of violent racial strife. Since Terry was decided, the Supreme Court has continued to expand the reach of the doctrine — which opened the door for potential abuse. Existing data is increasingly proving that the loosening of constitutional standards is causing substantial harms to people of color nationwide. This article joins the existing scholarly discussion surrounding this decision to suggest one additional tool that might be used to address the racial impact of the Terry doctrine. In particular, this Article proposes that police authority to stop suspects on nothing more than reasonable suspicion be limited to cases in which an officer reasonably believes the suspect is engaged in something more than a mere possessory offense. The proposal is consistent with much of the Supreme Court’s past language and will not substantially undercut police efforts to combat violent crime. In addition, this proposal will not be administratively burdensome since it would only require a police officer to articulate what about the suspect made him believe he was engaged in something other than a possessory criminal offense, which is not all that different from what police officers are currently required to do as a matter of internal policy. It is time to stop Terry to avoid the further erosion of rights caused by Terry stops.
Keywords: stop and frisk, probably cause, police
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