Stop and Frisk

Stop and frisk is a police procedure where law enforcement officers stop an individual they have reasonable suspicion is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a crime. The frisk element pertains to patting down outer clothing if there is reasonable suspicion to believe that a person might be carrying a weapon.

This tactic has sparked extensive debate, largely over concerns that it leads to racial profiling and unlawful searches. If you’re dealing with an interaction that involves stop and frisk, understanding this concept is important for assessing the legality of the encounter and its implications for your legal defense.

What is Reasonable Suspicion?

What is Reasonable Suspicion?

Reasonable suspicion is less stringent than probable cause but requires more than just a hunch. It must be based on specific and articulable facts, combined with rational inferences from those facts that indicate criminal activity may be afoot. Reasonable suspicion allows officers to stop individuals and briefly detain them to ascertain their identity, question them, and investigate their conduct.

For example, the following may give the police cause to stop and detain a person:

  • Noticing a person repeatedly walking back and forth in front of a closed business or attempting to open the doors, suggesting possible intent to break in
  • Seeing someone exchanging small objects for cash in a manner consistent with drug transactions, particularly in areas known for high drug activity
  • Spotting a vehicle with heavily tinted windows lingering in a high-crime area for an extended period, especially if the occupants appear to be observing passersby or engaging in suspicious interactions

Understanding reasonable suspicion is important for defendants so they can assess if the law enforcement action was justified. 

What is Reasonable Suspicion to Frisk?

Reasonable suspicion to frisk arises when law enforcement officers have specific, articulable facts suggesting a person may be armed and presently dangerous. Again, this must be more than just a hunch; the officer must detail actual, suspicious behavior.

Some examples of reasonable suspicion that can lead to a frisk might include:

  • A bulge under an individual’s clothing consistent with the shape of a gun or knife
  • Frequent adjustments at the waistband where a weapon is often kept once an individual notices police presence, suggesting they may be carrying a concealed weapon
  • An individual who is stopped exhibits excessively anxious behavior, refuses to make eye contact, and repeatedly attempts to conceal one side of their body; this could give rise to reasonable suspicion that they are trying to hide a weapon on their person

Understanding what constitutes reasonable suspicion to do a frisk is key to safeguarding your rights during a stop-and-frisk encounter and challenging any potential misuse of this police procedure.

How Far Can a Frisk Go?

A frisk refers to a limited search performed by law enforcement officers on the outer garments of a person for weapons. It’s designed to be a quick pat-down and is not meant to be an exhaustive search. 

An officer cannot go into your pockets or your purse or do anything other than run their hands over the outer layer of clothing unless they feel something that specifically resembles a weapon or contraband. Only then is an officer permitted to reach inside a person’s pockets.

What Happens if a Police Officer Violates Your Rights During a Stop and Frisk?

If your rights are violated during a stop-and-frisk encounter and you are arrested, it’s crucial to remain calm and composed. Reacting aggressively or resisting – physically or verbally – might escalate the situation and lead to further charges being brought against you.

Later, once the immediate incident has concluded, you can share every detail of that interaction with your lawyer, who will be able to assess if your constitutional rights were violated. If it is found that the officers overstepped their bounds, a motion to suppress any evidence obtained during that interaction can be filed with the court.

This motion, if granted, would prevent unlawfully acquired evidence from being used against you in court proceedings.

Understanding your rights during a stop-and-frisk situation is critical. If you suspect that law enforcement crossed the line and violated your rights, we can help. Schedule a free consultation with a Louisville criminal defense lawyer at Suhre & Associates DUI and Criminal Defense Lawyers. Call us today at (502) 371-7000.