So, not exactly dealing with what the Raleigh DWI Attorney blog normally deals with, this Raleigh DWI Attorney blog entry is dealing with a police stop called the “Stop-and-Frisk.” The NY Times Article that peaked my interest can be found here.
The Stop-and-Frisk is a means by which an officer can stop an individual based on “Reasonable Suspension” of some kind of ‘criminal activity.’ Reasonable Suspension is a very low standard, and though it is commonly used for other stops, particularly a traffic stop, this particular issue is a little different. In a common traffic stop, the officer has reasonable suspicion that a crime has, or is about to be, committed. They can use the same explanation for the Stop-and-Frisk, the big difference is, in a traffic stop, the officer an identify what crime it is they suspect has, or is about to be, committed.
If an officer catches you speeding with a radar gun, they know you have violated a traffic law dealing with exceeding the speed limit. If they run your plates and learn your registration is out of date, they can stop you for driving a vehicle that is not properly registered. For a Stop-and-Frisk, the officer doesn’t know specifically what crime is involved, just that the actions of the individuals may indicate some criminal activity.
So, let’s back up and explain specifically what a Stop-and-Frisk entails. When an Officer believes they have ‘reasonable suspicion’ that criminal activity is occurring, they can stop the individual to investigate. Now, the stop, like all stops, is not to last any longer than is necessary to ascertain whether a crime is, in fact, being committed, has been committed, or is about to be committed. Now, I can’t say I’m particularly happy with this standard for an officer to interrupt a citizen who may very well be involved in perfectly legal activity. The real big issue comes in with the ‘Frisk.’ You see, during the stop, if an Officer has some reason to believe the individual is armed, they are permitted to frisk them. During this frisk, the Officer can feel the outer garments of the individual(s). If, during the frisk, they feel something that could be readily identified as contraband, they can seize it, and where necessary arrest the individual.
Now, you may be saying to yourself, “an Officer has a right to ensure their safety in the course of their duty.” And, in most instances, I will agree with you. The problem with the Stop-and-Frisk is, the standard is so low for them to justify stopping an individual, they can readily come up with some ‘action’ on your part which constitutes possible “criminal activity.” In fact, the mere fact that you turn and walk away when you spot an officer, or a quick hand gesture (which, supposedly, could indicate the tossing of contraband) is enough.
So, in these instances, the officer has not seen a crime be committed, or a potential crime be committed, just some action which they deem suspicion, in order to justify the stop. Once stopped, they can justify the ‘frisk’ with any number of reasons. what I am saying is, even though there is a supposed ‘standard’ that must be met before this Stop-and-Frisk can occur, it is so low, it is paramount to a random Stop-and-Search.
For a history lesson on this topic, it derives from a case called “Terry v. Ohio.” It’s an interesting case if you have the time to read it. In the mean time, back to the grind.