Traffic Stops, Reasonable Suspicion, and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania: A State Constitutional Analysis

Dennis J. Buffone


The Fourth Amendment to the Federal Constitution protects individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures. Traditionally, the Supreme Court has interpreted the Fourth Amendment to require warrants supported by probable cause in both the search and seizure contexts. In Terry v. Ohio, the Supreme Court recognized that not all interactions between police and citizens involve intrusions serious enough to trigger the full probable cause standard. As a result, the Court delineated a specific, narrowly applicable exception to the general rule. The Court held that in situations where the police have specific and articulable grounds that provide them with reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot, they may briefly detain an individual for purposes of investigation. Both the facts of Terry and the language of Justice Warren’s opinion leave no doubt that the exception was to be construed and applied in only the narrowest of contexts. However, as lower courts interpreted and applied Terry in the following years, the standard enunciated in Terry blurred considerably. Hence came the development of the wellentrenched, but nebulous, investigative detention doctrine.

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