A New York state judge has ruled that NYPD’s “stop-question-frisk” policy is discriminatory. Under the United States Constitution and the State Constitution, people have a right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure; a right protected by the Fourth Amendment. Even a brief investigatory stop is considered a seizure under the Fourth Amendment. A person does not have to be arrested to be seized for purposes of the law. Therefore, a “stop” is a seizure. Similarly, a “frisk,” which may be a brief, cursory pat down, is a search under the Fourth Amendment.
Law enforcement must have a legitimate reason for stopping a person and must have a legitimate reason for frisking a person. Obviously, a person’s race is not a legitimate basis. The New York judge decided that NYPD was discriminating when deciding when to stop and frisk a person. The city plans to appeal that decision.
Of note, of all the stop and frisks conducted by NYPD, only a very small percentage resulted in actual arrests. However, even if a stop and frisk results in an arrest, this does not necessarily mean that the search and seizure was valid under the Fourth Amendment. The New York case was brought as a civil suit, but there are remedies for an illegal search or seizure in a criminal case as well.
In a criminal case, if a judge decides that police had no legitimate reason to contact a person and/or had no reason to search a person, then the evidence obtained as a result of that contact or search is suppressed, meaning the prosecution is prohibited from using that evidence against that person. Depending on how much evidence is suppressed, it may result in dismissal of an entire case. For example, if a person gets charged with a DUI because he failed the roadside maneuvers, admitted to being drunk, smelled strongly of alcohol and took a breath test with a result that showed the person’s BAC level exceeded the legal limit, it may seem that there is no defense to this case. However, if the officer who pulled this person over did not have a legitimate basis for stopping the person, then all of this evidence, the statements, the roadside tests and even the breath test results, would be suppressed. Without that evidence, the prosecution would not be able to move forward with the case and would be forced to dismiss.
If you find yourself charged with a crime, but believe the police wrongfully contacted and/or searched you, please contact us for a free consultation. 303-758-7700.
For more information regarding civil suit against NYPD, please see the following link: https://m.usatoday.com/article/news/2642313