Stop and Frisk – Reasonable, Articulable Suspicion on City Streets

Last year New York City police stopped and frisked 685,000 New Yorkers, the majority of which were minorities – either black or Hispanic. Nearly 90 percent of those 685,000 were innocent and the stop and frisk achieved nothing, except to interfere with their right to go about their day unhindered.

In fact, according to the ACLU of New York, the police frisked more African-American people than live in the city of New York, which means that many were frisked multiple times over the course of 2011.

The NYPD has defended its actions, pointing to the drop in crime since the mid 90s, but it’s important to note that the dramatic increase in “Stop and Frisks” since 2002 has nothing to do with the decline in crime – in 2002, for instance, just 95,000 people were stopped and frisked.

It’s also important to note that many of these stop and frisks may in fact be illegal, since the police are not, under the United States Constitution, simply allowed to point to someone and order them to stop and be frisked. Police, under Terry v. Ohio, must have reasonable, articulable suspicion – specific facts pointing to criminal activity – to justify the stop and frisk.

I recently observed a police officer testify that he stopped a vehicle in Raleigh because the vehicle was a rental vehicle and because when he looked at the people and they made eye contact prior to the stop, the people glanced away as if they didn’t want to talk to the police officer.

The judge correctly ruled that the stop was illegal, violating the defendants’ rights under the Fourth Amendment. The specific facts must point to criminal activity.

Damon Chetson

Damon Chetson is a Board Certified Specialist in State and Federal Criminal Law. He represents people charged with serious and minor offenses in Raleigh, Wake County, and the Eastern District of North Carolina. Call (919) 352-9411.