Attorney Angela Singleton - Oklahoma City Criminal Defense

Is Stop And Frisk Legal?

The concept of “stop and frisk” is a hotly debated topic all across the United States. Law enforcement maintains that it is a necessary tool for preventing crime and protecting citizens. Many people, though, think the opposite, saying that it is an abuse of power and an invasion of privacy as well as an attack on personal freedom.

No matter which side of the debate you find yourself on, the real question is whether or not it is legal for police to conduct a stop and frisk. It seems that with the unfortunately constant presence of violence throughout society, stop and frisk is becoming more prevalent. It’s important to know your rights when it comes to what a police officer can and can’t do if you are stopped on the street.

What is A Stop And Frisk?

Stop and frisk is when a police officer detains someone and pats down (frisks) their clothing in search of contraband or weapons. A frisk is, by definition, a type of search that requires the officer to be making a legal stop. This means a situation must exist that would give a reasonable person cause for reasonable suspicion that some kind of criminal activity is occurring or about to occur.

Is Stop And Frisk Legal In Oklahoma?

Since a frisk is a search of a person, it falls under the rights granted by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. In case you’re not familiar with the Fourth Amendment, it reads:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

The Oklahoma State Constitution also contains the same language in section II-30.

In the most basic terms, this means that in order for a police officer to stop someone on the street and frisk them, that officer needs to have cause to do so. He can’t just randomly stop people and pat them down looking for anything that might turn up.

What The Supreme Court Says About Stop And Frisk

In 1968, the case Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 was brought before the Supreme Court of the United States. It dealt specifically with defendants being charged as the result of being stopped on the street and frisked by a police officer.

In the resulting ruling, the court determined that it is legal for law enforcement to conduct a stop and frisk in cases “where a police officer observes unusual conduct which leads him reasonably to conclude in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot and that the persons with whom he is dealing may be armed and presently dangerous”.

The Court also stated, however, that “Each case of this sort will, of course, have to be decided on its own facts.”

The final opinion presented by the court is quite lengthy, but it does make several specific points regarding stop and frisk and the fourth amendment. The ramifications of the Court’s decision affect all 50 states.

  • The Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures, made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, “protects people, not places,” and therefore applies as much to the citizen on the streets as well as at home or elsewhere.
  • The Fourth Amendment applies to “stop and frisk” procedures such as those followed here.
    • Whenever a police officer accosts an individual and restrains his freedom to walk away, he has “seized” that person within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment.
    • A careful exploration of the outer surfaces of a person’s clothing in an attempt to find weapons is a “search” under that Amendment.
  • Where a reasonably prudent officer is warranted in the circumstances of a given case in believing that his safety or that of others is endangered, he may make a reasonable search for weapons of the person believed by him to be armed and dangerous regardless of whether he has probable cause to arrest that individual for crime or the absolute certainty that the individual is armed.
  • The reasonableness of any particular search and seizure must be assessed in light of the particular circumstances against the standard of whether a man of reasonable caution is warranted in believing that the action taken was appropriate.

Have You Been Subject To A Stop And Frisk?

As you can see, whether or not a stop and frisk were conducted legally depends very much on the specific circumstances. It’s not always obvious if the officer was acting within the limits and exclusions of the Fourth Amendment or not.

If you’ve been charged with a crime as the result of a stop and frisk, it is critical that you contact a qualified and knowledgable immediately. As a criminal defense lawyer with experience in search and seizure cases, I can help you to put forth the best possible defense for your case.

A consultation is always free. You can contact me online anytime or call 405-510-0345 to set up an appointment. I’ll be happy to go over the details of your case, answer your questions, and determine how I can help you.

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About the Author

I started practicing criminal defense with the goal of providing people with an attorney who has both the ability and time to focus on their clients. Having legal issues can be frustrating and everyone deserves to have an attorney who will fight for them. I am that attorney because I believe everyone deserves to have an attorney who focuses on the needs of their client and who will fight for them in the courtroom.