Can Police Stop You on the Street and Frisk You?

Categories: DUI Defense

A field officer asking a driver to complete a field sobriety test.

Unfortunately, officers can stop you on the street and detain you if they have probable cause. This includes frisking you to see if you are armed or in possession of an illegal substance.

While it is true, you might get stopped randomly by officers and frisked while out on a walk, law enforcement cannot pick people out of the crowd without reason.

As a citizen of the United States, you have Constitutional rights. One of those rights is to be free from any unreasonable search and seizure, which includes being frisked on the sidewalk.

However, you must also realize that an officer doesn’t need a warrant to stop you on the street and inspect your person (i.e., frisk you). An officer does have legal rights to stop someone if they suspect they are carrying something illegal, but must show probable cause. A person who “looks guilty” is not probable cause.

Reasonable Suspicion and Probable Cause Requirements

Officers that stop individuals on the sidewalk and request to search their body must have reasonable suspicion.

Reasonable suspicion is a complicated term in itself, but it means that the officer must have factual proof that they believe criminal activity has occurred or is about to happen because of you. The court requires that they have probable cause to do this without a warrant or reasonable suspicion to search you.

Under Terry V. Ohio 392 U.S. 1 (1068), the Supreme Court stated that officers, who believe a person is in possession of a dangerous weapon, have the right to stop and search that person. Likewise, the court held that the officer was reasonable to stop that person, and the officer has the right to draw on his or her experience when determining that a crime is likely.

However, an officer must still identify themselves before doing so.

For example, an officer is patrolling a local shopping center that has a high rate of theft and muggings. They see someone in the parking lot walking around without any shopping bags, inspecting vehicles and watching people leaving the shopping center. The officer can say that they have a reasonable suspicion that the person was about to steal a vehicle or possibly mug a person leaving the center.

The officer must still justify the reasons for stopping a person, and usual justifications include:

  • A concern for public safety or the safety of the officers
  • Evidence the suspect was acting suspiciously, aggressive, or angry at the time
  • The person in question began to run away when they saw law enforcement
  • A person who is in a place where they do not appear to fit
  • Someone who is loitering or looking for something
  • Someone present in a high-crime area without reason for being there

Limitations to the Law

While an officer could say they have reasonable suspicion and stop you on the sidewalk to inspect you, they have limits. No officer can pick a person at random.

Officers are also limited to how deep of a search they can do. They cannot reach under your clothing, remove clothing, or touch any unacceptable body parts – which may result in a sexual assault accusation.

Likewise, officers cannot go past the scope of the search. For example, an officer stops you on the sidewalk as you are walking to your car, but they do not know which vehicle is yours. They frisk you then ask for you to show them your car. If they found nothing during their search of your body, using that to then search your vehicle would likely end up as fruit of the poisonous tree for any evidence in your car. After they search you and find nothing, their reasonable suspicion excuse is no longer valid. They had no reason to inspect your car for further evidence.

The same goes for what might be found during a frisk. The officer claims he or she is searching for a rifle. They inspect apparent places such as inside your jacket or pants. However, they cannot reach in your underwear or small pockets where a rifle would not fit. And if they did only to find illegal substances, they would be unable to use that to charge you as it was not the reason for their initial search.

Law enforcement does have broad powers, but they are balanced by restrictions set in place by the Supreme Court. You have the right to protect yourself against unlawful searches, and the moment you suspect that officers stopped you without reason, you should speak with a defense attorney.

Know Your Rights and Protect Them

Being allowed to stop and frisk you for “suspicion” sounds unfair, but it happens daily throughout the country.

Police departments throughout Colorado are doing their best to stop crime, but that doesn’t mean that they should assume everyone is a criminal. While a person walking is a free target, officers need to respect citizens’ rights.

When used correctly, stopping and frisking someone can prevent serious harm to the community. But when this power is abused, it can harm the person who is stopped.

Hire a Defense Attorney Today

If you were stopped by law enforcement and frisked, but you feel that you were targeted unfairly and that your rights were violated, you need a defense attorney. Even if law enforcement found something illegal on you, they may not have a case. Instead, they must prove to the court they had probable cause to search you, and a good defense attorney knows how to poke holes in the evidence and show the judge or jury that the evidence is not sufficient enough.

To get started, contact a local defense attorney ready to fight for you. Schedule your free case evaluation now with attorney Mark S. Rubinstein, P.C.

He has helped countless clients just like you fight back against unfair treatment from law enforcement. During your free consultation, he will discuss the circumstances of your stop and work hard to gather evidence in order to show the court that your rights were violated.

Call us now or request your appointment online.

Mark Rubinstein

Attorney Mark S. Rubinstein has been practicing law for more than 30 years, including 25 years in Colorado. He founded Mark S. Rubinstein, P.C., in Carbondale after working for law firms in Denver and earlier in his career in San Diego. He focuses his practice in the areas of criminal defense and personal injury representation, and he is well known throughout western Colorado as an effective and unwavering advocate for his clients.