Law Questions

1.        What is a Terry stop? Why are they permitted? When are they permissible? What may the police do during a Terry stop?

The Terry stop is based on the case of Terry vs. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). This landmark decision, made in by the United States Supreme Court, maintained that the police does not violate the law which protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures if the police do so on reasonable suspicion that the suspect my be armed and pose a danger to the police and other civilians as well.

The Supreme Court made the distinction between an unreasonable and reasonable search. According to the Supreme Court, the Fourth Amendment was intended against unreasonable searches and seizures in so far as gathering evidence against suspect is concerned. That is why evidence gathered as a result of an unlawful search is not acceptable in a court of law. But the police can stop and frisk a civilian if there is reasonable suspicion that the subject is about to commit a crime. This decision made it possible for police officers to do a limited search for weapons on a person. From thereon, this type of stop and frisk deemed lawful and acceptable became known as the Terry stop.

The Terry stop has two elements – the stop and the frisk. When a police makes the decision to stop someone, this means that the police has grounds to do so, based on a rational and “explainable” suspicion that a crime has been committed or is about to take place, in which the subject is involved. If the police officer suspects the presence of a weapon, then a “patdown” may be performed to protect the police officer and nearby civilians. After the stop and the patdown, the police will then frisk the subject for possible weapons.

During a Terry stop, a police officer may seize the items that he suspects the subject to have. It means that if the police is expecting to find weapons and contraband, them those things may be seized. However, if the presence of contraband is not apparent from the start of the frisking, then that item cannot be seized without violating the constitutional rights of the subject. Any object found during the frisk must have been apparent to the police officer even before the Terry stop is conducted. Any item discovered by chance cannot be seized.

Ultimately, the decision to make a Terry stop is based on what the police officer believes during that time and those suspicions must based on the prevailing circumstances at that moment. Those extenuating circumstances must be hold weight even when questioned in court.

2.        Discuss the law regarding entries by law enforcement officers into homes and residences and the admissibility of evidence obtained as a result of such entries.

The Fourth Amendment expressly prohibits police officers from making warrantless searches and seizures, especially in the privacy of the civilian’s home.

The process of search and seizure is mandated by law. This procedure is performed by police officers to gather evidence that are relevant to a particular crime. Any search and seizure activity pursued by the police must have a warrant, usually issued by a judge. This right against unreasonable searches and seizures is just one of the checks and balances to ensure that the public is protected from possible human right abuses that might result from them.

Any evidence obtained from an unlawful search will not be admitted by court, regardless of its importance and materiality to the case. That is why it is absolutely important that any search and seizure is done with proper authorization to protect any possible evidence that may be obtained from it.

3.    Discuss the law regarding traffic stops, detentions, and searches by law enforcement officers of motor vehicles, their occupants, and any packages contained in them.

The rules surrounding traffic stops take their cue from the Terry stop. Similar to a Terry stop and frisk, any traffic stop must be done with reasonable suspicion, based on apparent circumstances. A traffic stop is done to catch a suspect who may have just committed a crime, stop a crime that is in progress, or prevent a crime from taking place.

When a police officer stops a vehicle, the process is called “pulling over”. The police officer signifies the order to pull over by using loudspeakers and sirens. Depending on the result of the traffic stop, a search may then be performed, and from there, an arrest, detention, or issuance of a written or verbal warning might take place. Traffic stops are risky for police officers; the fact that the suspects are inside a vehicle lends itself to so many complications. If the stop happens in an isolated area, the suspect may engage the police officer in a gun fight, and because of the element of surprise the police officer may be at a disadvantage.

Again, much debate rages as far as traffic stops are concerned, and most people complain about violation of their constitutional right. The decision to do so lies on the police officer, based on probable cause and reasonable suspicion, which is evident at that time.

4.    Discuss the law pertaining to search warrants and arrest warrants, including the procedures for obtaining a warrant, the procedures for executing a warrant, and the exceptions to and/or defenses against warrant requirements.

A search warrant is legal document that authorizes police officers to do a thorough exploration of a place in search of evidence relevant to an ongoing court case. Any possible evidence is then seized and held by the police for use in their ensuing investigation. By law, a police officer needs a search warrant to enter a private residence or office. However, this may be waived in cases of a hot pursuit, when there is apparent danger to the police officer or civilians nearby, when a felon’s escape must be prevented, or when evidence is being destroyed. In such cases, police officers are well within their rights to exercise the law, sans a search warrant.

Only judges and magistrates can issue a search warrant. However, an officer must convince the court that the search warrant is indeed warranted. Based on direct or hearsay information, the police must justify the need for a search warrant; that there is probable cause to enter a civilian’s home or office because of the presence of evidence material to the case. If the subject or owner of the house agrees to a police search, then the search warrant is no longer required. Under a search warrant, both objects and individuals can be seized for later investigation.

Arrest warrants are legal orders to arrest individuals and hold them in detention, until such time that bail is allowed and posted. Issuing arrest warrants are not the exclusive domain of the courts; in fact political agencies such as the House of Congress can issue an arrest order.

An arrest warrant is issued because the person to be arrested is suspected of having committed a certain crime. Once the suspect has been arrested and detained, a court case will be then filed to prove whether the suspect is guilty of the crime or not. In execution of an arrest, the person to be arrested must be personally served with the legal documents pertaining to the arrest order, if not; the subject may dispute the arrest as unconstitutional. For felonies and misdemeanors, an arrest warrant is not required if the police is there when the felony took place, or if the suspect turns in voluntarily to the police.

5.    Discuss the various approaches to establishing identity in criminal cases and the admissibility of identification evidence obtained through them.

At the heart of any criminal case is the establishment of the identity of the perpetrator so that he or she may be meted out the punishment commensurate to the crime that has been committed. In cases where there is an eyewitness, a line-up will be conducted, and the witnesses will identify, to the best of their knowledge, the person they saw during that particular time. However, a positive ID does not guarantee a conviction, unless the witness saw the actual crime being committed. If no witnesses have come forward, then it is up to the forensics team to do a thorough analysis of the crime scene, including the body of the victim.

For crime scenes, it is important that police be able to preserve the scene as it was discovered to ensure the patency of any forensic information that will be gathered from it.

Again, as part of evidence in a criminal case, care must be taken when conducting investigation because the findings might be dismissed based on a technicality or the inability to follow proper court procedures.

6.    Discuss the law regarding evidence obtained through wiretapping, electronic surveillance, and eavesdropping.

As with Terry stops, traffic stops, search and arrest warrants, the rules governing lawful wiretapping and other forms of electronic surveillance is anchored on the principles of probable cause or reasonable suspicion that some illegal activities are going on or about to take place.  Federal and state law enforcement officials are allowed to install wiretapping devices only after they have established some legal grounds to do so.

The court issues an order or a warrant to wiretap a certain individual. Together with the legal document are the parameters that define how the wiretapping is to be conducted. Usually, a court mandated wiretapping stipulates that the surveillance be done only on certain times of the day and that the conversations to be monitored are those relevant to the suspected illegal activity. Also, wiretapping cannot be conducted indefinitely;

it is permitted only for a specific duration or period of time. After the stipulated time has elapsed, either a new court order is requested or the wiretapping will no longer be conducted. In criminal cases, evidence gathered through unlawful wiretapping or eavesdropping is inadmissible in court, and all arguments based on the evidence will also be removed in the deliberation of the case.

7.    Discuss the law pertaining to the use of documents and writings as evidence in criminal cases.

       Documents are very important elements of any court case. Not all evidences are in the form of testimonies; in fact, some cases have been lots and won by virtue of written documents. As far as presenting evidence in a criminal case is concerned, originals must be presented as much as possible. However, if originals cannot be used for some reason, the copies must be certified as original by the appropriate agency authorized to certify them.

       It is also important to mention that all documents that will be presented as evidence in a criminal case be given to the defense team beforehand so that the defense team is given the chance to challenge or rebut its contents.