Law enforcement is allowed to conduct pat-downs – also known as “stop and frisks” – in certain limited circumstances. However, they must have reasonable suspicion to do so, and there are restrictions on how to carry out stop and frisks. A police officer or other law enforcement agent that violates the legal requirements of a proper stop and frisk may be held liable in a civil rights lawsuit. Hale & Monico represents individuals who have had their rights violated by law enforcement. Contact our civil rights attorney today to discuss your legal options.
What Is a Stop and Frisk?
A stop and frisk is a brief interaction with police in which a suspect is stopped and patted down for weapons. It is a temporary detainment by law enforcement, not an arrest; nonetheless, certain constitutional limitations exist even in these short encounters.
The Fourth Amendment protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. Police do not have to have a warrant to conduct a stop and frisk, but an officer must have reasonable suspicion before doing so. That means a reasonable suspicion may regard a crime that has been, is being, or is about to be committed by the person in question.
“Reasonable suspicion” is the standard derived from a Supreme Court case known as Terry v. Ohio. In that decision, the Court held that a reasonable stop and frisk is one “in which a reasonably prudent officer is warranted in the circumstances of a given case in believing that his safety or that of others is endangered, he may make a reasonable search for weapons of the person believed by him to be armed and dangerous.”
What Is an Example of Reasonable Suspicion?
Since the Supreme Court is concerned with whether the overall circumstances warrant a stop and frisk, a good example of reasonable suspicion would be where several suspicious factors are present at once. A vehicle pulling into a lot of a closed business is probably not enough, on its own, to warrant law enforcement action. But let’s assume the following additional circumstances are also present:
- The vehicle was seen driving slowly before entering the parking lot
- The vehicle drove past the business several times before pulling into the parking lot
- The vehicle pulled around to the back of the business where it couldn’t be easily seen from the street
- The driver parked and turned the vehicle’s headlights off
- It was late at night
- The lighting at the business was poor
- The business was located in a high crime area
In a case like this, there’s a good chance that law enforcement would have reasonable suspicion to confront the driver and conduct a stop and frisk.
When Does a Stop and Frisk Violate Someone’s Rights?
The absence of reasonable suspicion is not the only way in which a stop and frisk can be considered constitutionally invalid. Just because a police officer has reasonable suspicion to pat down a suspect doesn’t mean they can do so without limit. Stop and frisks should be conducted relatively quickly so an officer can assess whether the suspect has weapons. A drawn-out stop and frisk might therefore be inappropriate. Also, the pat-down cannot be overly intrusive of the suspect’s body.
What Are the Consequences of an Illegal Stop and Frisk?
If the stop and frisk was illegal, a criminal charge that results from the search could potentially be dismissed. There are cases in which, during the pat-down for weapons, an officer discovers other contraband such as drugs. If this happens, the question usually becomes whether the pat-down was intrusive or otherwise went too far. But drugs or other contraband can potentially be seized during a stop and frisk.
An illegal stop and frisk might also result in a civil rights lawsuit against the law enforcement agency. Stop and frisks that are performed without reasonable suspicion or are performed in an inappropriate manner can result in monetary damages.
What To Do If You’re Stopped By Police
If you’re subject to a police stop and frisk, remain calm. Fleeing from police or resisting the search will almost certainly make the matter worse. Just because you were stopped and searched doesn’t mean you will be arrested, and even if you are let go you may still be able to pursue a civil rights claim.
Here are some tips for what you should do if you’re stopped by police:
- Do not argue with or touch the officer
- You may ask the officer whether you’re free to leave
- If you choose not to speak or answer questions, inform the officer you wish to remain silent
- Remember, however, that anything you say can be used against you in court
- If you are arrested, ask to speak with a lawyer immediately and remain silent
Contact Our Stop And Frisk Attorney
Finally, talk to a knowledgeable civil rights attorney, even if your encounter was brief and didn’t result in an arrest. An attorney can explain, based on the facts of your stop and frisk, whether there are grounds for pursuing a civil rights claim. Give Hale & Monico a call today.