When May a Police Officer "Frisk" Someone?
Oftentimes, Columbus Georgia Criminal Lawyer Mark Jones is asked when a police officer may “frisk” someone following a traffic stop. The answer to this question depends on the facts of each case, but, generally speaking, the following rules apply to control when an officer may frisk someone.
(1) A Police Officer May Pull Someone Over When They Have Reasonable Articulable Suspicion of Criminal Activity
As an initial matter, the police officer must have reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity to pull someone over and detain them. This was the decision in the watershed case, Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). This standard is low, but it is more than a hunch and less than probable cause. See generally, United States v. Sokolow, 490 U.S. 1 (1989) (reasonable suspicion must be more than “an inchoate and unparticularized suspicion or hunch … [it is] a level of suspicion supported by articulable facts that criminal activity may be afoot.”).
Beware of magic words, though! Just because an officer states he only had a “hunch” does not mean there is no reasonable articulable suspicion. Fitz v. State, 275 Ga. App. 817, 622 S.E.2d 46 (Ga. App. 2005).
Probable cause simply means a “fair probability” that a crime has been committed. See, e.g., State v. Hunter, 282 Ga. 278 (Ga., 2007) (probable cause means fair probability contraband will be found in a particular place).
So we have the following standards concerning traffic stops and seizures by law enforcement:
- Hunch = no basis to stop and detain
- Reasonable Articulable Suspicion = basis to stop for investigatory detention
- Probable Cause = basis to arrest for alleged crime
(2) A Police Officer May Frisk Someone When They Have a Reasonable Articulable Suspicion that the Suspect is Armed or Poses a Danger
Now that we have discussed the standards outlined in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), we can understand when a law enforcement officer can pat down a suspect. There must be reasonable, articulable suspicion that a suspect is armed and poses a danger to conduct a Terry pat down. This was the holding of Edgell v. State, 560 S.E.2d 532 , 253 Ga. App. 775 (Ga. App. 2002). There, the police officer frisked a suspect who was simply riding in the same vehicle as the driver who was arrested for an expired tag. The officer testified that he had no basis to suspect Edgell (the passenger) of a crime. Edgell simply got out of the car to call a friend to come pick him up. The officer conducted a Terry frisk and found marijuana. The trial court refused to grant Edgell’s motion to suppress and Edgell appealed.
Chief Judge Blackburn — one of the Court of Appeals’ most prolific writers — held that this frisk was unconstitutional because there was no particularized basis to stop and frisk the defendant.
So, there you have it. The police must have an objective, articulable basis to frisk someone. Generally, they will have this if they have a reasonable suspicion to pull someone over in the first place, but not necessarily.
Columbus Georgia Criminal Lawyer Mark Jones knows the law and can fight for you to get your criminal case tossed or reduced. Call Mark today at 706-225-2555 for a free 30 minute consultation regarding your case.
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