In our last post, we began speaking about the importance of exploring the legality of police searches and seizures when building a criminal defense case. We also pointed out the difference between probable cause and reasonable suspicion, and the fact that the latter involves a lesser legal standard.
The case that gave rise to the term “stop-and-frisk” was the U.S. Supreme Court Case Terry v. Ohio. In that case, Terry and two other men appeared to an officer to be casing a robbery, and so the officer stopped and frisked all three men, finding weapons on two of them. The issue in the case was whether the search and seizure was legal under the Fourth Amendment.
The court in the Terry case determined that such a search is legal, provided the officer reasonably believed the suspect to be armed and to present a threat to his or her safety during the investigation. The idea is that a Terry search is limited in scope, being aimed at protecting an officer’s safety during an investigation
Terry stops or stop-and-frisks certainly can be abused. The tactic, for instance, can be used to discriminate against an individual because of his or her appearance. Stopping and frisking based on race rather than reasonable suspicion is known to have been an issue in New York City, for instance. Given recent well-known events surrounding the issue of discrimination in police work, this is an important issue.
In our next post we’ll take a look at the current state of the stop-and-frisk technique here in Baltimore and changes that need to take place to correct existing problems.