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Police Stops For Investigative Purposes


Figuring out when police officers can legally stop and question a person on the street can sometimes get confusing. The validity of a police stop depends on what reason the police had to make the stop. In some cases, the length of time it takes for the stop to end may also make a difference in determining the validity of the stop.

Police officers generally have the right to stop people on the street if they have a reasonable suspicion that the person is engaged in illegal activity. The brief stop is supposed to be for investigatory purposes, and so the officer may ask some questions that are geared towards finding out the person’s identity and purpose for being at a particular location. The brief stop that a police officer conducts for reasonable suspicion is known as an investigatory stop, or a Terry stop after the U.S. Supreme Court case that established the rule on these stops.

A reasonable suspicion for these purposes is defined as a particularized and objective basis for suspecting that the person the officer stopped was engaged in criminal activity. The police officer has to be able to state what the basis for the stop is in order for the court to determine it was legal. The police officer’s reason has to be more than a hunch that the person was engaged in criminal activity.

There is a difference in the brief stops discussed above and an arrest. The main difference is that generally, in order for police officers to make an arrest, they must have probable cause to believe that the person to be arrested has committed a crime. The probable cause standard is more than reasonable suspicion, and this means that a police officer needs to have more to conduct an arrest than to conduct a stop on the street.

A police officer is said to have probable cause if the totality of the facts known to the officer at the time he made the arrest would cause a reasonable person to believe that an offense has been committed. Therefore, whether there was probable cause or not depends on the facts of each particular case.

The question of whether or not the police properly stopped a person, or conducted a warrantless arrest, usually comes up when the person gets charged with a crime following the stop. This happens either because the police found illegal items on the person, or because the police found out some information during the stop that led to the arrest. The arrested person’s defense attorney can file a motion to invalidate the arrest and to suppress any evidence found. This can be a good strategy to get the person released before the case goes to trial or the person accepts a plea agreement.

Contact an Experienced Criminal Defense Attorney

If you were arrested following a warrantless arrest, there may be grounds to file a motion to suppress any evidence found and dismiss any pending charges. If you are facing criminal charges in West Palm Beach, Florida, you need an experienced criminal defense attorney representing you. Before making any statements to the police, contact Scott Berry Law for a free consultation today.


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