NYPD Stop-and-Frisk Procedure Held Unconstitutional In Federal Court

A federal judge deemed part of the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) stop-and-frisk practice was unconstitutional, violating the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure, focused on police stops conducted in front of several thousand private residential buildings in the Bronx enrolled in the Trespass Affidavit Program. Property managers in that program have asked the police to patrol their buildings and to arrest trespassers. The N.Y.P.D.’s inaccurate training has taught officers the following lesson: Stop and question first, develop reasonable suspicion later.

Law enforcement officers are permitted to conduct a limited warrantless search on a level of suspicion less than probable cause under certain circumstances. In Terry v. Ohio 392 U.S. 1 (1968), the Supreme Court ruled that when a police officer witnesses “unusual conduct” that leads that officer to reasonably believe “that criminal activity may be afoot”, that the suspicious person has a weapon and that the person is presently dangerous to the officer or others, the officer may conduct a “pat-down search” (or “frisk”) to determine whether the person is carrying a weapon. This is commonly referred to as a Terry frisk. imagesterryfrisk.jpg

A police officer with reasonable suspicion may legally stop a suspect and conduct a frisk over the suspect’s outer garments in search of concealed weapons. To conduct a frisk, officers must be able to point to specific facts which, taken together with rational inferences from those facts, reasonably warrant the officer’s actions. A vague hunch is not sufficient. Such a search must be temporary and questioning must be limited to the purpose of the stop.

According to Florida’s courts, reasonable suspicion is present when a reasonable police officer under similar circumstances would believe criminal activity had just occurred, was occurring at that moment, or was about to occur. In other words, whether that specific officer’s belief was reasonable is reviewed by the courts using an objective standard (what a reasonable officer would have believed under similar circumstances), not a subjective standard (what that specific officer believed at the time the pat-down/frisk was conducted).

Law Enforcement may stop and frisk one for almost any reason, and they will – particularly in high crime areas and minority communities. However, the fact that a person was merely seen entering or leaving a building is not enough to permit the police to stop someone, even if the building is located in a high-crime area, and regardless of the time of day. Reasonable suspicion must be based on more factors than location alone.

When an officer is writing the arrest report, they may say that they stopped an individual because it was late at night and the individual was engaging in strange activity in a high-crime area location, or may claim one was loitering, hiding, or any other number of suspicious behaviors. Many times, officers will write on their report any factors they think necessary to make the frisk (making any evidence found as a result) legal under the eyes of the law. Anything found during the frisk that is illegal gives the officer probable cause to make an arrest. This can turn a stroll through the neighborhood to a friend’s house into a night in a jail and an up-hill battle to clear one’s name.

When being simply questioned by police, many feel overwhelmed and scared by police and think they are going to be arrested. The best way to determine if one is free to go when a police officer has stopped one is to simply ask. If one isn’t being detained, one should leave the area and move on with one’s life.

If, however, the officer says one is being detained, remember, the detention could very well be illegal. However, resisting arrest can only make the situation worse for one who is already dealing with an officer who is not following the law correctly. One needs an experienced Jacksonville criminal defense attorney who has the knowledge to properly fight the charge and ensure one’s rights are protected.

When you are being detained, the officer can legally pat you down for what he believes in his “training and experience” to be concealed weapons or contraband. Some people think that they will be making things easier on themselves if they announce their possession of illegal substances right away. Remember, anything one says can and will be used against one in court. Telling the officer one has drugs or firearms in one’s pocket is a voluntary confession, make one’s defense dramatically harder.


The Forbess Law Firm has been aiding clients who face criminal charges in Jacksonville for years and are here to provide aggressive criminal defense to anyone accused of a crime. If you or a loved one require a Jacksonville criminal defense lawyer, contact our firm today. We are available through our website or by calling us at 904-634-0900.

Additional Source: Police Stop-and-Frisk Program in Bronx Is Ruled Unconstitutional, Joseph Goldstein, The New York Times