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Stop-and-Frisk in Pennsylvania

Stop-and-frisk is a police practice of detaining people on the street and searching them. Two years after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed suit to halt illegal stop-and-frisk practices by the Philadelphia Police Department, a follow-up study concluded that while the use of this tactic has declined, stop-and-frisk practices continue to be misused by police.

The ACLU report claims that 45 to 50 percent of all stop-and-frisk activity is still being conducted without legal cause. Additionally, the report indicates that an overwhelming number of such citizen detentions are aimed at minorities.

Stop-and-frisk is constitutionally permissible only as long as the police strictly follow the rules. Those rules require that police officers conduct brief, limited investigative detentions in situations where they have a reasonable suspicion that a person is involved in criminal activity.

Reasonable suspicion — what is it?

Reasonable suspicion generally requires that the detaining officers have specific facts that would cause a reasonable person to believe that a crime has been or is about to be committed. Whether or not reasonable suspicion existed for a specific detention is usually determined on a case-by-case basis in a hearing before a judge.

Frisking a detainee

A frisk is also called a pat-down search for weapons. The same rule that allows for an investigatory detention also permits police to frisk a person for weapons. If the officers see or feel something that could be a weapon, they may seize it from the detainee. However, officers have been known to overstep the bounds of this rule and seize objects such as baggies of marijuana that bear no resemblance to a weapon.

Solutions to illegal stop-and-frisk tactics

If you are the object of a stop-and-frisk on the street, stay calm. Do not become belligerent or physically resist the officers. When you are free to leave, walk away calmly. Always keep your hands where the officers can see them. Do not agree to a search of your person. If you are arrested, say nothing other than that you wish to speak to an attorney.

If you suspect that you were detained and searched illegally, contact an aggressive and skilled criminal defense lawyer in Berks County who will fight to protect your constitutional rights.

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