Stops and Frisks

Stops and Frisks

Learning Objective 5: Distinguish between a stop and a frisk, and indicate the importance of the case Terry v. Ohio.

A. Defining Reasonable Suspicion

i. When reasonable suspicion exists, police officers are well within their rights to stop and frisk a suspect

ii. Police Discretion

a. Terry v. Ohio (1968)

b. Detective Mc Fadden observed two men acting strangely in downtown Cleveland

c. The detective believed that they were planning to break into a convenience store based on his observations, and he approached the men

d. After hearing mumbled responses from the men, the detective frisked them and found handguns on two of them, who were tried and convicted of carrying concealed weapon

iii. “Totality of the Circumstances” Test

a. An officer must have “specific and articulable facts” to support the decision to make a stop. The facts may be considered together resulting in a rational inference.

b. Because of their practical experience, law enforcement agents are in a unique position to make such inferences and should be granted a good deal of freedom in doing so.

c. The need to prevent terrorist attacks is part of the “totality of the circumstances,” and therefore, law enforcement agents will have more leeway to make stops near U.S. borders.

d. Today the courts rely on a “totality of the circumstances” test to determine whether the stop was based on reasonable suspicion.

B. A Stop

i. Takes place when a law enforcement officer has reasonable suspicion that a criminal activity is about to take place

ii. There are limits to the extent police can detain someone who has been stopped

iii. In 2004, the court ruled that officers can require suspects to identify themselves during a stop

C. A Frisk

i. Should be a protective measure

ii. Police officers cannot conduct a frisk as a “fishing expedition” simply to try to find items besides weapons, such as illegal narcotics, on a suspect

Media Tool

“Stop and Frisk: Search and Seizure – the Fourth Amendment”


· A short clip about preventive policing and stop and frisk procedures.


D. Race and Reasonable Suspicion

i. Racial Profiling

a. In general, a person’s race or ethnicity alone cannot provide reasonable suspicion for stops and frisks. To stop a person for either of these constitutes racial profiling. When racial profiling is evident, he remedies include:

1. A civil lawsuit against the law enforcement agency for violating provisions of the U.S. Constitution that require all citizens to be treated fairly and equally by the government

2. Law enforcement agency policies designed to stop the practice

ii. Stop-and-Frisk and the NYPD

a. Aggressive stops by police in New York

b. Between 2004 and 2012 police made 5 million stops; 83% involved African-Americans and Hispanics

c. In 2014, a federal judge ruled New York’s practice unconstitutional as it violated the Fourth Amendment

Media Tool

“Supreme Court Rules on Arizona’s Immigration Laws”


· A short clip about Arizona’s immigration law.


IV. Arrests

Learning Objective 6: List the four elements that must be present for an arrest to take place.

An arrest is the taking into custody of a citizen for the purpose of detaining him or her on a criminal charge. Unlike a stop that is relatively brief based on reasonable suspicion, an arrest involves deprivation of liberty and is deserving of a full range of constitutional protections and requires probable cause

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