Motions to Suppress Evidence-Terry Stops

The purpose of this article is to provide a basic explanation of Motions to Suppress Evidence seized as a consequence of an illegal search and seizure by government authorities during investigatory stops. Search and Seizure law can be very technical and is very fact specific. One single difference in a factual situation can mean a very different result as to whether the appellate courts have deemed the actions of law enforcement to be an illegal search and seizure. It is strongly advised that you consult with and retain an experienced criminal attorney when facing criminal charges.

The fourth amendment to the United States Constitution (U.S. Const., amend. IV) and article I, section 6, of the Illinois Constitution (Ill. Const. 1970, art. I, § 6) protect individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures. The U. S. Supreme Court has recognized that not every encounter between the police and a private citizen results in a seizure, and has identified three tiers of police-citizen encounters. People v. Luedemann, 222 Ill. 2d 530, 544 (2006). These are: (1) arrests, which must be supported by probable cause; (2) brief investigative detentions, or Terry stops, which must be supported by reasonable, articulable suspicion of criminal activity; and (3) consensual encounters, which involve no coercion or detention and thus do not implicate fourth amendment interests and are deemed not to be seizures. Leudemann, 222 Ill. 2d at 544.

What will often be at issue in any motion to suppress is what the nature of the encounter between law enforcement and the defendant was. If the encounter is deemed to be “consensual” then no seizure occurred and an individual’s fourth amendment rights do not come into play. However, if the encounter between law enforcement and a defendant is deemed to have been a seizure, then the individual’s fourth amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure become effective. For an officer’s conduct to be deemed a seizure he must convey a show of authority such that the defendant’s freedom of movement was restrained.

What Constitutes a Show of Authority?

In the Mendenhall case, the U.S. Supreme Court listed four circumstances in which a nonconsensual seizure might occur: (1) the threatening presence of several officers; (2) an officer’s display of a weapon; (3) the physical touching of the individual’s person; or (4) “the use of language or tone of voice indicating that compliance with the officer’s request might be compelled.” People v. Cosby, 231 Ill.2d 262, 274 (2008). A seizure does not occur simply because an officer approaches an individual and puts questions to that person if the person is willing to listen. Leudemann, 222 Ill. 2d at 551.

What is Reasonable Suspicion?

In order for an investigatory or Terry Stop, to be lawful it must be based on a reasonable, articulable suspicion that the individual subjected to the seizure was involved in criminal activity or armed and dangerous. Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968); and People v. Tate, 367 Ill. App. 3d 109, 115 (2006). The determination as to whether an officer had sufficient reasonable, articulable suspicion that a crime had been or was about to be committed is fact specific and there is no bright line rule. Mere hunches and unparticular suspicions are not enough. People v. Smith, 331 Ill. App. 3d 1049, 1054 (2002).

Merely walking away when the police become present has not been deemed to be sufficient reasonable suspicion to justify a stop and frisk, nor has simply being present in a high crime area. However, running upon seeing police has been deemed to create sufficient suspicion to justify a seizure and subsequent search of a person. Michigan v. Chesternut, 486 U.S. 567 (1988).

Stops on Vehicles

A Terry stop may be made on a vehicle. What often occurs on a Terry stop of a car is that it often progresses into a full-blown arrest that is supported by probable cause once an officer has a chance to check the defendant’s license or make other observations that leads the officer to believe a crime has been committed such as Driving While License Suspended or Driving Under the Influence.

There are several situations that have been held by the courts to be proper reasons for an investigatory stop ( Terry Stop) on a vehicle, some of them are as follows:

  1. Inoperable tail light;
  2. Cracked windshield;
  3. Swerving within the same lane;
  4. Obstructed windshield;
  5. Disobeying a traffic control device;
  6. Failure to signal;
  7. Following tooclosely;
  8. No rear license plate;
  9. Failure to dim headlight;
  10. Computer check shows vehicle owned by a driver with a suspended license;

However, courts have found that officers made unlawful stops of motor vehicles in the following situations:

  1. Weaving within one lane;
  2. Driving under the speed limit;
  3. Momentary crossing of the fog line;
  4. Bulging rear tires on a truck;

The courts have held that stopping a vehicle for a minor traffic violation does not in and of itself justify a search of the defendant’s person or of their vehicle. Knowles v. Iowa, 525 U.S. 113 (1998).However, if during the course of the officer’s stop for a minor traffic violation, the officer observes criminal activity, his observations may lead to the officer having enough probable cause to arrest a defendant and then search the defendant or his vehicle incident to arrest.

I hope that after reading this you have a better understanding of Motions to Suppress evidence illegally seized during investigatory stops. If you have further questions, please visit my website at and complete my online submission form.


Posted in Uncategorized

Recent Posts