A Stop is Just a Stop: Terry's Formalism
21 Pages Posted: 26 Oct 2017
Date Written: October 25, 2017
Terry v. Ohio expanded police authority by creating a new legal category—the stop based on reasonable suspicion, an easier standard to meet than an arrest based on probable cause. The formal line between those two categories, however, has turned out to be blurry. In practice, stops morph easily into arrests even without new evidence, an elision that Terry doctrine does not contemplate. The implications are significant for the enormous misdemeanor arena where legal rules generally lack traction, and Terry stops are common. Once those stops become arrests, they typically convert smoothly into criminal charges, which easily become convictions. Terry stops thus influence eventual outcomes far more than they should given their lightweight evidentiary basis. This slippery slope undermines the integrity of basic distinctions between policing and prosecution throughout the petty offense process, an unprincipled state of affairs exacerbated by the original Terry compromise.
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