The Outrage of Stop-and-Frisk

As the subject of an ongoing trial in federal court, Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al., the controversial police policy known as “stop and frisk” is receiving more attention than perhaps at any other moment in its history. For most of that time — and indeed it is difficult to know exactly how long the practice has obtained — Americans, if they are aware of stop-and-frisk at all, have looked on it as a question primarily of expediency, a specialized, even involuted, question for criminal-justice experts.

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As a distinct tool of policing, stop-and-frisk is characterized and ostensibly justified by the brevity and superficiality of the search and engagement with the police officer. Where full-scale arrests and searches are the special province of Fourth Amendment safeguards, the Supreme Court said in its watershed decision in Terry v. Ohio, mere “investigatory stops” and frisks of outer clothing do not rise to such a level as to be the subjects of constitutional protection.

The 1967 decision, the Court’s first confrontation with the stop-and-frisk question, thus held that searches confined to what is “minimally necessary” to the goal of protecting an officer are constitutionally permissible. Contraband uncovered by such frisks, then, was not to be treated under the exclusionary rule, the legal precept that evidence discovered by means of illegal searches is inadmissible against a criminal defendant in court. Terry v. Ohio, now nearly half a century old, provides the backdrop to the current cause célèbre of stop-and-frisk, one in which questions of race and discrimination commingle with those of civil liberties and Americans’ attitudes towards the swelling police state.

Read more via The Outrage of Stop-and-Frisk The Future of Freedom Foundation.

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