Are ‘stop-and-frisk’ tactics violating innocent people’s rights?

Imagine walking down a street in your neighborhood, minding your own business. A police officer orders you to stop and begins peppering you with questions. He seems to have a hunch that you are guilty of some sort of drug crime.

“What’s your name?” Where were you 10 minutes ago?” He makes you stand against a wall and gives you a pat-down. Are the police allowed to stop and frisk you like this? Is this an ethical and effective aspect of the criminal process? An editorial in The Baltimore Sun questions whether some stop-and-frisk policies have gone too far.

New York City officials claim its police department’s stop-and-frisk procedures have helped produce a significant drop in crime. However, blacks and Hispanics accounted for a disproportionate percentage of the city’s stops-and-frisks in 2010, and police found drugs or weapons in less than 2 percent of those stops.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees all citizens the right to be free from unreasonable searches of their person. The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that police officers can stop you on the street if they have a reasonable suspicion you are involved in a crime. They can also frisk you if they have a reasonable suspicion that you are armed and present a threat to officers or the public.

Different sets of facts can support reasonable suspicion, but a police officer cannot stop and frisk people randomly. Many people who are not in law enforcement and uneducated in the law don’t always know their rights and what reasonable suspicion is. If arrested and facing a criminal charge, a criminal defense attorney can help determine whether an officer had any right to stop a suspect and, therefore, whether a charge is even warranted.


The Baltimore Sun: “Stop and frisk: The Fourth Amendment takes a hit,” Leonard Pitts Jr., Oct. 30, 2011

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