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Stop and Frisk

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In this series of lectures on the fourth amendment, Judge Charles Moylan examines the legality of stop and frisk cases under the fourth amendment.
He notes that the key point of the fourth is that all searches and seizures without judicially issued warrants are unreasonable and therefore unconstitutional. One exception to this rule is the stop and frisk case. In Terry v. Ohio, the Supreme Court rules that 'stop and frisk' fell under the fourth amendment decrees in that citizens have a right to walk freely without being stopped by the police. However, the Court recognized that stops and frisks are significantly less intrusive than full-blown searches and seizures and that standards must be developed for stops and frisks. The Court recognized the dangers of a broad stop and frisk law, especially regarding minorities and the poor, but felt that police should have this investigative right as it serves as part of their preventive function. Stop and frisk law must be based on more than whimsy but less than probable cause; it must be based on (1) reasonable suspicion, (2) good cause to believe, and (3) articulable suspicion. In Terry v. Ohio, the Court ruled that officers have the right to stop and pat down a suspect if they have reasonable suspicion that the person may be armed. The basis for this decision was officer safety as was the case in Sivron v. New York, in which the Court ruled that police officers must articulate their fear that the suspect is armed in order for the stop and frisk case to be valid. The Court also set scope limitations of the stop. It cannot be a full-scale seizure of a person; it must be within reach; and it must last only a little while. Similarly, police officers can frisk a suspect only for what is absolutely necessary (e.g., looking for a weapon), and the risk must be a limited search (a pat down of the exterior clothing of the suspect). The police must have a flexible set of escalating responses beginning with an articulable suspicion and extending to a reason to believe that the suspect is armed. If a frisk reveals that there is a weapon, then the police officer may arrest and search the suspect.