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Limits on a Police Officer’s Ability to Stop and Frisk Citizens in New York

Over the last few years, there has been a backlash against the New York stop-and-frisk program, based on the fact that racial minorities were being stopped in far greater numbers than non-minority populations. And while by most accounts, the total number of people stopped and frisked has decreased, the basic principle that allows a police officer to stop and frisk a citizen still remains intact and these principles are important for experienced criminal defense attorneys who handle both gun crimes and drug crimes to be familiar with.

Under New York criminal law, there are four types of interactions with police. First, police may briefly stop someone to request information if they have any “objective and credible” reason. This does not necessarily have to be related to criminal activity. Second, if police believe that someone has, or is about to, commit a crime, they can briefly stop that person. Third, if police believe that the person poses a danger, they can search that person. Finally, if police have probable cause to believe that person committed a crime, they can arrest them.

In the moment, police have a difficult time neatly fitting each situation they confront into one of these four categories. As a result, police generally err on the side of restricting a person’s rights and will frequently exercise more force than is necessary. When this is the case, any evidence seized as a result of an officer’s violation of a person’s rights may be suppressed by the court.

An issue that frequently comes up in New York stop-and-frisk cases is whether the defendant’s conduct gives rise to a reasonable belief that they are engaging in criminal activity. A recent case briefly discusses how even seemingly innocuous facts, when taken together, can result in justified police intervention.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was charged with possession of a weapon. Prior to trial, the defendant attempted to preclude the weapon from being introduced into evidence through a motion to suppress. The defendant argued that the police did not have a basis to stop and search him. The motion was denied, and the defendant was convicted of the offense. The defendant appealed.

On appeal, the court affirmed the lower court’s denial of the defendant’s motion to suppress. The court noted the following facts:

  • The police were aware that the defendant was involved in gang activity;
  • Before approaching the defendant, the police saw him adjusting something in his waistband repeatedly;
  • The officers saw a bulge in the defendant’s waistband; and
  • The defendant made “shooting” gestures to his companions.

The court explained that “each of these circumstances, when viewed in isolation, might be considered innocuous, but when viewed in totality they provided reasonable suspicion of criminality.” Thus, the lower court’s decision to deny the defendant’s motion was affirmed.

Have You Been Arrested and Charged with a New York Gun Crime?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with the possession of a gun in the New York City area, you should immediately contact one of the dedicated New York gun crime attorneys at the law firm of Tilem & Associates. At Tilem & Associates, we have decades of combined experience representing those charged with serious New York felony and misdemeanor crimes, and we know what it takes to successfully represent those charged with any New York crime. We handle cases from arrest through trial in the New York and White Plains areas. Call 877-377-8666 to schedule a free consultation with an experienced New York criminal defense attorney today.

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