Under both Washington and Federal law, people are protected from unreasonable searches and seizures. This means, in part, that the police cannot detain or interrogate people without a warrant, with few exceptions. One such exception is the Terry stop, which is an investigatory stop conducted due to a suspicion that a person is engaged in criminal activity. The scope of the Terry stop exception is narrow, though, and searches that fall outside of the scope may constitute custodial arrests without a warrant in violation of constitutional rights. The standards for reviewing the nature of a stop were recently explained by a Washington court, in an opinion issued in a case in which the defendant appealed his conviction for unlawful possession of firearms. If you are charged with a weapons offense, it is smart to consult a Washington weapons charges defense lawyer to assess whether your rights were violated.
The Defendant’s Stop
It is reported that the defendant was driving his vehicle when an officer recognized him and followed him to a nearby restaurant parking lot. The officer was aware that there was a warrant out for the defendant’s arrest and that he was a convicted felon. The officer, along with two other officers, tackled the defendant inside of the restaurant, held him down and handcuffed him. They then advised him that he was under arrest for a felony crime. One of the officers then questioned the defendant, who admitted he had a gun.
Allegedly, the officer located the weapon, and the defendant was charged with unlawful possession of a firearm. He moved to suppress the handgun found during the search, arguing the police did not have the lawful authority to search and detain him. the court denied his motion, finding that the Terry stop exception applied, and the defendant appealed.
Terry Stops Versus Arrests
The court noted that the defendant was seized at the time the officers searched him and recovered the gun, as the officers restrained his physical movement to such a degree that a reasonable person would not believe he had the freedom to leave. The state argued, though, that the search and seizure of the defendant was a valid Terry stop. The appellate court disagreed and overturned the trial court ruling.
The court explained that while the Terry stop is an exception to the rule that a search must be conducted with a warrant to be valid, the exception only applies if an officer reasonably suspects a person is engaged in or is about to engage in criminal activity. Further, an officer may only frisk a person for weapons during the stop if he or she has reason to believe the person is armed and dangerous. In the subject case, the appellate court found that the arresting officers lacked grounds to conduct the stop or search the defendant. Thus, it overturned the trial court ruling
Speak to a Dedicated Criminal Defense Attorney in Washington
The circumstances under which the police can stop and search a defendant are limited, and if an officer violates a defendant’s right against unreasonable search and seizure, any evidence obtained via the search may be deemed inadmissible. If you are accused of a weapons crime, you should speak to an attorney about your options. The dedicated Washington weapons charges defense attorneys of The Law Offices of Smith & White are skilled at helping criminal defendants protect their interests, and if you hire us, we will work tirelessly on your behalf. You can contact us via our online form or by calling 253-203-1645 to set up a conference.