The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects you from unreasonable searches and seizures. In other words, before law enforcement can stop you or conduct a search of your person, they have to have probable cause. 

The Supreme Court of the United States has upheld the constitutionality of Terry stops, which allows authorities to detain you briefly if they have reason to believe you may have committed a crime. A Terry stop can be unnerving, but it may help if you know what is going to happen and what you need to do. 

Why are they called Terry stops?

Terry stops get their name from a 1968 Supreme Court case, Terry v. Ohio. The plaintiff alleged that a law enforcement officer had violated his rights by detaining him and patting him down for weapons. 

The officer reportedly believed that the plaintiff and his companions had been preparing to rob a store. The Supreme Court ruled that the officer’s suspicions were reasonable based on the behavior of the individuals and that the stop was therefore constitutional. The same standards could potentially apply to you. 

What happens during a Terry stop?

“Stop and frisk” is another name for a Terry stop and also an accurate description of what happens. If a law enforcement officer has reason to believe that you have recently committed a crime or one is in progress, he or she has the right to detain you temporarily. The officer also has the right to frisk you, i.e., search you for weapons, in the interest of his or her own safety. 

What should you do during a Terry stop?

Under Georgia law, if a law enforcement officer asks you for your name during a Terry stop, you must identify yourself. The Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of this in a 2004 decision. 

The validity of a Terry stop depends on the reasonableness of authorities’ suspicion. If you believe a Terry stop was invalid, you can challenge it in court.