Of the numerous and varied actions that law enforcement has been known to take against the ordinary citizen, few have a greater talent for eliciting outrage that the ever-popular stop and frisk. The temporary detention and subsequent pat-down are bad enough on their own, but the fact that an officer can do this without giving you a reason can serve as the infuriating icing on the cake.
Nevertheless, the police can legally engage in this behavior with no more than a reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. For a simple stop and frisk, they won’t even need to show probable cause, and thanks to the stop and frisk exception, they have no need of producing a warrant.
If you think that this activity violates your constitutional rights, you are not alone. Unfortunately, given the right set of circumstances, stop and frisk is currently the law of the land, and people deemed suspicious by the police can find themselves unwitting subjects.
Reasonable Suspicion Is the Only Requirement
A member of law enforcement cannot choose a stop-and-frisk target out of the blue or simply because he is bored. He can only detain you if the circumstances of the situation would lead any rational individual to believe that you could be involved in some type of criminal activity. He won’t need any evidence or actual proof to detain you. His considered suspicion will be enough.
However, there are limits to how far the stop and frisk can go. Unless he has facts and evidence suggesting probable cause, the officer can only briefly detain you and potentially proceed to pat you down outside your clothing. He cannot arrest you unless the pat-down produces some factual evidence that yes, you are, were or will soon be engaging in criminal behavior. Any evidence turned up during the frisk could then serve as the needed probable cause for an arrest.
What Makes a Stop Justifiable?
There are various reasons for which a member of law enforcement may feel he has the right to detain you. This could happen if:
- Your behavior is inappropriate.
- Your appearance matches the mug shot on a “wanted” poster.
- You are loitering.
- You are skulking around the fringes of a crime-scene area.
- You appear to be intoxicated, angry or emotionally distressed.
- You are noticed trying to hide or dispose of an object.
- You break into a run at the sight of the police.
A member of law enforcement may also stop and frisk you simply because you live in or are passing through a high-crime neighborhood.
What Justifies a Frisk?
The stop alone is just that: a stop. Before he can proceed to frisk you, the officer must first lawfully detain you under reasonable suspicion. If the stop itself was illegal, the subsequent frisk will be also.
An allowable frisk will involve nothing more than a pat-down on the outside of your clothing. If this activity should turn up contraband, a hidden weapon or evidence of criminal activity, the officer will be within his rights to seize it.
A member of law enforcement can legally perform a frisk if:
- He fears for the safety of himself or others.
- He suspects that you are armed and could be dangerous.
- He believes that you either are, have been or will soon be involved in the commission of a crime.
A stop alone will not always proceed to a frisk. If you can give a satisfactory explanation to the officer who questions you, that should be the end of it. Furthermore, although the neighborhood or time of day may excuse a stop, these things alone will not justify a subsequent frisk unless substantiating circumstantial evidence exists to warrant it.
When Stop and Frisk Goes Too Far
If you have done nothing to trigger law enforcement’s reasonable suspicions, there is technically no legal excuse for stopping you in the first place. In addition, no one is entitled to frisk you if the reason for the stop turns out to have been bogus. For example, if your uncanny resemblance to a wanted individual triggered the original stop, your ability to prove that you aren’t that person will negate the officer’s legal right to frisk you.
People who live in high-crime areas often complain of being subjected to excessive stops with or without the frisk. Some of these situations arise from a quota system that rewards police officers in accordance with the number of productive stop and frisks in which they have taken part.
While the stop and frisk itself may have the desired effect of scaring people into good behavior, it can also alienate law-abiding citizens and heighten tensions between the police and an area’s residents, particularly when it occurs in a minority community.
Have You Been the Victim of a Stop-and-Frisk?
If you have been the subject of a criminal investigation that resulted from a possibly unjustified stop and frisk, a resulting conviction could subject you to high fines and possible prison time. Fortunately, a good criminal defense attorney may succeed in uncovering evidence that the police officer who originally detained and patted you down was acting illegally. If this is the case, your lawyer might successfully get the charges against you reduced or even dropped entirely. Call Weiner Law Group at 702-202-0500 today for a free consultation.