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Stop and Frisk: The Controversy

There has been much discussion in the news lately about New York City's Stop and Frisk program. Although New York may be more aggressive in implementing Stop and Frisk, all states use Stop and Frisk in criminal enforcement to some degree. Proponents of the program in New York cite the fact that before Stop and Frisk was widely and aggressively implemented, the City had reached a horrific 2600 homicides a year. Under Mayor Bloomberg's tenure, when Stop and Frisk has been a powerful law enforcement tool, the homicide rate declined to 500 deaths a year. It is hard to argue with statistics like that.

Yet many people do. Stop and Frisk is criticized on both ends of the political spectrum. One side argues that police use racial profiling to unfairly target particular minorities when implementing Stop and Frisk. According to the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR):

  • African-Americans and Latinos constitute 84% of all stops
  • 95,000 stops lacked a "reasonable articulable suspicion" and therefore violated the Fourth Amendment's prohibition against unreasonable search and seizures
  • 6% of stops result in arrest
  • 1.8% of frisks result in seizure of contraband
  • .12% of seizures are of weapons

The above data was used in the lawsuit that led to the issuance of an injunction on the use of the Stop and Frisk procedure in New York City (Floyd, et al. v. City of New York). The injunction was overturned by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit last week and the Judge that decided the case was removed. The Stop and Frisk program is now back in effect in New York City until a new Judge considers the case. The reactions to this ruling were loud, strong.

While one side frequently focuses on racial profiling and the disproportionate effect of Stop and Frisk on certain ethnic and socioeconomic groups, the other often turns its focus to the preservation of constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment. As noted, the Fourth Amendment protects people from being subject to unreasonable searches and seizures. It establishes a standard of probable cause for both searches and arrests. However, exceptions had to be carved out of this rule for the realities of street police work. When an officer suspects someone of engaging in criminal activity, the officer can detain--"stop"--the person to investigate. If the investigation leads to a reasonable articulable suspicion that the person is hiding something, possibly a weapon or drugs, then the officer can proceed to search the person--the "frisk."

The standard for the Stop and Frisk is not probable cause, which is the required standard for an arrest and a search warrant. A Stop and Frisk is less intrusive and invasive and therefore the standard for allowing one is less stringent. But some argue that the lower standard gives too much power to police and leads to the abuse of people's constitutional rights.

What are your rights when stopped by police? The answer depends on the circumstances surrounding the stop. Was any frisk or seizure legal? It depends on whether the officer had a reasonable articulable suspicion of criminal activity, and whether the search was conducted within the scope of that suspicion. If you have been subject to a Stop and Frisk, and have questions about its legality, please contact the Thomas Law Firm today.

Categories: News, Stop and Frisk
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