What is the Stop and Frisk Law in Pennsylvania and Philadelphia

Can the police in Philadelphia stop and frisk you without a good reason? No. A stop-and-frisk refers to a brief non-intrusive police stop of a suspect. The Fourth Amendment requires that before stopping the suspect, the police must have a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been, is being, or is about to be committed by the suspect. If the police reasonably suspect that the suspect is armed and dangerous, the police may frisk the suspect, meaning that the police will give a quick pat-down of the suspect’s outer clothing. The frisk is also called a Terry Stop, derived from the Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968). Terry held that a stop-and-frisk must comply with the Fourth Amendment, meaning that the stop-and-frisk cannot be unreasonable. According to the Terry court, a reasonable stop-and-frisk is one “in which 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.”

Stop and frisk is when police temporarily detain somebody and pat down their outer clothing when there are specific articulable facts leading a reasonable police officer to believe a person is armed and dangerous. It is not necessary for the officer to articulate or identify a specific crime they think is being committed, only that a set of factual circumstances exist that would lead a reasonable officer to have a reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is occurring. Reasonable suspicion is one step below probable cause and one step above a hunch.

A “frisk” by definition is a type of search that requires a lawful stop. It is best thought of as a separate act, but in practice, a suspect who refuses to answer questions in a stop may be providing the officer with sufficient justification to frisk. A frisk should not be for anything other than a dangerous weapon or contraband. However, if other evidence, like a suspected drug container, is felt, it can be seized by the officer under the “plain feel” doctrine. The test for plain feel is that the item’s contraband nature be “immediately apparent”.

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