Tag Archives: Justified Frisks

What are Laws Regarding Stop and Frisk?

Reasonable Suspicion

Much of the controversy regarding stop and frisk is determining when there is reasonable suspicion. A law enforcement officer may state that a person is suspicious because he or she is highly emotional, appears drunk, is fearful or is angry. Law enforcement officers may also depend on information about the surroundings to explain their reasonable suspicion of the suspect. Such circumstances may include the suspect being present by a crime scene, moving in a suspicious manner or running away from someone. An individual can also be lawfully stopped if he or she matches the description of a wanted felon.


If reasonable suspicion does exist, the law enforcement officer can stop the suspect. Some stops include a show of force, such as the law enforcement officer ordering the suspect to stop and sometimes even physically forcing the suspect to stop. A police officer may also execute a stop by showing his or her authority, such as by displaying a badge, giving the suspect a particular look or using certain demeanor to execute the stop.

Justified Frisks

A person can be stopped without also being frisked. A frisk consists of a law enforcement officer patting down a subject to determine if he or she is carrying any weapons. The reason for a frisk is to make the law enforcement feel more comfortable so that he or she knows that the suspect will not be able to harm him or her with a concealed weapon. A frisk is also meant to protect the other citizens in the vicinity. A frisk can also be used to detect if a person is carrying drugs. If the law enforcement officer can inherently determine that the item being patted is plainly drugs without having to manipulate the item in any way, the item can be seized. This is based on the “plain feel” doctrine.

A frisk is only justified in certain circumstances, usually in situations in which the encounter may be riskier. For example, a frisk may be conducted when the law enforcement officer believes the suspect is armed and dangerous or is concerned about his or her own safety or that of others. A frisk may also occur when an officer does not have backup. The law enforcement officer may also be able to justify a frisk based on certain factors when considered together, such as the number of suspects, the size of suspects, how the suspects are behaving, appear or how their emotional state appears, evasive answers given during the stop, the time of day or the area where the stop is made.

Problems Associated with Stop and Frisk

The primary concern regarding stop and frisk is that it may be abused by law enforcement officers to complete unconstitutional searches. Individuals who have been subjected to a stop and frisk and believe that their rights were violated may choose to contact a criminal defense lawyer to learn about their options and their rights.