Street Encounters or Terry Stops
Police Cannot Stop You Without Reasonable Suspicion
As experienced Boston Drug Trafficking Defense Lawyers understand, prior to the War on Drugs, police officers rarely stopped, detained or questioned individuals without a good reason. After all, the crime rate was relatively low and the police, recognizing they would solve few crimes, such as burglary and robbery, by randomly detaining individuals, were reluctant to antagonize the citizenry. Once society criminalized drugs, forcing drugs sales from store counters to our streets corners, it unleashed law enforcement to scrutinize otherwise innocuous street level behavior for criminality and perceive brief street level encounters as potential illicit drug sales. Aggressive and unscrupulous police officers learned that in “high crime” areas they could, without any real disincentives, detain and search any “suspicious” individual for illegal contraband. While criminal defense attorneys have fought hard to preserve our rights, we have been mostly losing this battle. We must do better.
The courts have shown some backbone. To counter police overreaching, courts have ruled that the Fourth Amendment prohibits the police from indiscriminately stopping or harassing those they encounter on our streets. Instead, police officer may detain and briefly question only those persons whom he reasonably suspects have committed, are committing, or are about to commit a crime. To restrain officers from acting on hunches or less noble motives, courts require them to justify their brief detentions with specific and “articulable facts and the specific reasonable inferences” which, together with their experience, create reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.
Of course, many individuals will endeavor to avoid an encounter with the police by walking or running away. And, naturally, officers rarely allow an individual they have targeted to simply walk or run away from them. While officers often feel that any attempt to circumvent their authority is reasonable suspicion of criminal wrongdoing, courts have consistently ruled that the officer’s suspicion must be reasonable before they initiate their pursuit. Were the rule otherwise, police officers could convert a baseless hunch into reasonable suspicion by inducing conduct vindicating the hunch.
Kevin J. Mahoney is a Boston, Massachusetts Drug Trafficking Lawyer specializing in protecting Constitutional Rights of those charged with crimes.