The Fourth Amendment protects Americans from unreasonable stops, searches, and seizures. But what about unreasonable frisks? In recent headlines, “stop and frisk” laws have been stirring up controversy due to the gray legal area they sit in.
The concept of a “stop and frisk” is when a police officer tells a person to stop walking and remain still while they frisk them for weapons or contraband. No matter how you view it, this is a pretty invasive practice. However, it can be accomplished both legally and illegally.
Legal Frisks Need Legal Stops
The police do have the right to stop and temporarily detain someone if any of the following are true:
- Appearing to be out of place – such as an unidentified adult in a preschool.
- Matching the general description of a current “wanted” flyer.
- Behaving strangely, emotionally charged, angry, afraid, or drunk.
- Loitering, trespassing, or rummage for an undescribed item.
- Running away from the police or behave furtively.
- Remain within an active and known crime scene.
Of course, the police always have the ability to stop someone based on “reasonable suspicion” that they have recently engaged in, are engaging in, or will soon engage in a criminal activity. Once a person is lawfully stopped, they can be lawfully frisked if the police officer then has reason to believe that a weapon or contraband could be present on the detained individual.
Danger could be present if the officer:
- Has reason to believe they or another person will soon be harmed.
- Thinks the suspect will commit a crime that could involve a weapon.
- Recognizes the suspect from previous violent crime arrests.
- Is alone and without backup.
- Outnumbered considerably by potential suspects.
- Sees a weapon or contraband in plain sight.
- Is given elusive answers when talking to the suspect.
Any weapon or illegal substance found on someone during a frisk can be collected as evidence, should an arrest actually follow. Frisking must also be a quick pat down, not a thorough search of all pockets.
When Frisking is Unlawful
With the aforementioned legal definitions in mind, frisking becomes unlawful if there was never a reason to make a lawful stop, or never a reason for the officer to fear for their safety. Even in regards to legal stops in potentially dangerous situations, the police are not supposed to root through a person’s belongings during a frisk. Recent controversies involve stories of police officers stopping people seemingly at random and conducting full searches, but calling it a lawful stop and frisk.
Fight for Your Fourth Amendment Rights
Criminal defense cases originating from unlawful stop and frisks are both complicated and terribly important. In order to keep the criminal justice system honest and our law enforcement agencies trusted, only lawful stop and frisks can be allowed, and any unlawful occurrences must be fought vehemently in the court of law. If you need a powerful criminal defense attorney that will never back down so long as you need help, contact the Law Offices of Jason K.S. Porter, P.A. and ask for a free case evaluation. With more than 90 years of collective legal experience and a former prosecutor on our team, we may have what it takes to have your charges dismissed or diminished.