• North Carolina Criminal Law: Understanding the "Stop and Frisk"
  • April 9, 2012
  • Law Firm: Matheson Law Office PLLC - Raleigh Office
  • During a North Carolina DWI stop, or any other Criminal Detention, the officers normally will ask question and perhaps perform a pat-down.. As a Durham DWI Attorney and Durham Criminal Attorney, I have studies these police techniques extensively. The Stop-and-Frisk is a means by which an officer can stop an individual and 'frisk' the individual. The stop is based on the officer having 'Reasonable Suspension' of some kind of criminal activity being committed, having recently been committed, or about to be committed.

    The Stop and Frisk was officially codified by the courts in a case known as Terry v. Ohio. In that case, an officer observed three individuals (one who's name was John Terry) walking back and forth in front of a store. The Officer believed their actions were suspicious; specifically he believed they were casing the store for a robbery. The Officer approached the three individuals to determine whether there was a crime being committed or about to be committed. During the encounter with Terry and the other men, he patted down the outer clothing of Terry and found a Pistol. Terry was charged carry a concealed weapon. During the trail, Terry's Defense Attorney tried to suppress the stop and search, but the court found that the officer only needs reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed, about to be committed or recently committed. Additionally, the court determined that an Officer is permitted to do a pat down of the outer garments of the individual if they have reasonable cause to believe the individual may be armed. During that pat down of the outer garments, if the Officer feels something that can be readily identifiable as contraband, they may search the inner parts of the garments (specifically pockets) to determine if their suspicions were correct.

    The standard used to justify the stop is "Reasonable Suspicion." Reasonable Suspicion is a very low standard, it is commonly used for other stops, particularly a traffic stop. In a common traffic stop, the officer has reasonable suspicion that a crime has, or is about to be, committed. If an officer catches an individual speeding with a radar gun, they know you have violated a traffic law dealing with exceeding the speed limit. If they run your plates and learn your registration is out of date, they can stop you for driving a vehicle that is not properly registered. For a Terry Stop-and-Frisk, the officer may not know specifically what crime is involved, just that the actions of the individuals may indicate some criminal activity. In Terry cases, Officer's have successfully justified their stop of an individual based solely on suspicious activity. An example would be a quick hand gesture when noticing an Officer.

    I am a North Carolina Criminal Defense Attorney practicing in Raleigh, Durham and the greater Triangle area. In addition to North Carolina Criminal Defense, I also handle North Carolina Traffic Case with a focus on North Carolina DWI Defense .

    Disclaimer - Information and advice offered in this article is for informational and educational purposes only and is specific to North Carolina law. The viewing, receipt and/or exchange of information from this article does not constitute an Attorney-Client Relationship. For assistance regarding your particular legal question speak with an Attorney practicing in the field from which your questions derives.