Defining the contours of united states V. hensley: Limiting the use of Terry stops for completed misdemeanors


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     In United States v. Hensley, a unanimous Court set forth the rule that, "if police have a reasonable suspicion, grounded in specific and articulable facts, that a person they encounter was involved in or is wanted in connection with a completed felony, then a Terry stop may be made to investigate that suspicion." By expanding the scope of the Terry doctrine, Hensley strengthened the power of law enforcement officials to "stop and frisk" individuals who they believe may pose a threat to the themselves and/or the public. Prior to Hensley, the Court's decisions merely sanctioned Terry stops of individuals that law enforcement officers reasonably suspected were about to commit a crime, or were committing a crime at the time of the stop. Thus, by authorizing Terry stops based on an officer's reasonable suspicion that an individual was involved in an already-completed felony, Hensley extended the types of situations under which law enforcement officers may engage in Terry stops. While explicitly expanding the scope of Terry v. Ohio in the context of completed felonies, the Hensley decision left open one major issue-whether the balancing test set forth in Hensley applies to investigatory stops based on an officer's reasonable suspicion that an individual was involved in a completed misdemeanor. With no answer from the Court, lower federal and state courts have attempted to answer this question on their own; in doing so, they have diverged on the issue. Most recently, in United States v. Grigg, the Ninth Circuit expanded the scope of Hensley and applied its balancing approach to Terry stops for completed misdemeanors. This Note argues against the Ninth Circuit's approach and rather for a per se rule against Terry stops for completed misdemeanors. This Note proposes that, in light of the inherent differences between misdemeanors and felonies, Hensley's balancing test should not extend to completed misdemeanors. Furthermore, the use of Terry stops for completed misdemeanors does not further the government and public interest in crime prevention and solving past crimes to an extent great enough to outweigh the great intrusion on privacy rights that Terry stops cause. Additionally, a per se rule provides for efficiency and guidance to police enforcement on routine patrols. Under such an approach, it is easier for private citizens to comprehend and appreciate their rights and understand when those rights are being violated
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