WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN AN “INVESTIGATORY STOP” AND A “WELFARE CHECK”?
An investigatory stop, also known as a terry stop or temporary detention, is a brief detention of a person by a law enforcement officer. The officer must have reasonable suspicion that the person is engaged in criminal activity in order to temporarily stop that person. Reasonable suspicion is the lowest burden of proof in the court system and requires that a law enforcement officer be able to point to specific and articulable facts which, taken together within rational inferences, reasonably warrants the conclusion that the stop was necessary. During an investigatory stop, the law enforcement officer is limited to what is reasonably necessary to confirm or dispel the officer’s suspicion
In U.S. v. Cortez, the Supreme Court of the United States held that in order to temporarily stop a person, law enforcement officers must, based on the totality of the circumstances, have a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person of criminal activity. 449 U.S. 411 (1981). Additionally, with regards to duration of the temporary stop, the Supreme Court of the United States concluded that law enforcement officers must diligently pursue a means of investigation that is likely to confirm or dispel their suspicions quickly. U.S. v. Sharpe, 470 U.S. 675 (1985).
An investigatory stop is considered a temporary seizure; therefore, if done unreasonably, can potentially be a violation of an individual’s Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure. While the investigatory stop is a temporary seizure, it is important to note that it is not an arrest. In order to make an arrest, an officer must have probable cause that a crime has been committed.
A welfare check, also known as a wellness check, occurs when law enforcement officers respond to a request to check on the safety and well-being of a person. These situations typically arise when an individual is having a hard time getting ahold of a family member, friend, or neighbor and they believe something is wrong with the person. The most common type of welfare check is checking on an elderly person. However, welfare checks can be utilized for a wide variety of reasons, including but not limited to, potential suicide, drug overdose, and child endangerment.
In order to request a welfare check, an individual must first get in contact with law enforcement, whether that be through 911 or a non-emergency number. Prior to contacting law enforcement, an individual must be certain that the person they are concerned about is in danger. If the individual lives in the same area as the person they are concerned about, he or she may accompany authorities to that person’s residence. Additionally, no court order is required for police to conduct a welfare check. As long as the officer has reasonable grounds to believe that an inhabitant in a residence is endangered, they can legally enter the premises. Law enforcement is given this power under the Community Caretaking Doctrine, a judicially created exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment.
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