NYPD's Stop-and-Frisk Unconstitutional; Mayor Vows to Appeal

By Brett Snider, Esq. on August 13, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The NYPD's stop-and-frisk practice is unconstitutional, a federal judge ruled Monday, finding that the policy violated the Fourth Amendment as well as equal protection principles.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg vowed to appeal the ruling, according to The New York Times.

Despite Bloomberg's assertion that stop-and-frisk has eliminated "thousands of illegal guns," Judge Shira A. Scheindlin stated in her ruling that the tactic allowed police to stop innocent people with no objective reason to suspect them of a crime.

Before getting into the nature of the NYPD's stop-and-frisk practice, it's worth mentioning the kind of stops that police can legally make if they have reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing, also known as Terry stops.

In order to legally detain a person (i.e., "stop") and do a Terry pat-down (i.e., "frisk"), an officer must first have particular facts about that person that reasonably point to criminal activity -- not just a gut feeling based on generalizations about that person, their appearance, or their neighborhood.

The U.S. Supreme Court first recognized in Terry v. Ohio that officers could also make limited pat-downs of suspects, without a warrant, as long as they had reasonable suspicion based on "articulable facts" that a suspect was armed and posed a risk to officer safety.

This kind of Terry frisk is limited to the outside of a person's clothing. Without more evidence that a weapon is concealed within a person's clothes, an officer may not reach inside a pocket or shirt to look for weapons or contraband.

NYC's Stop-and-Frisk

Judge Scheindlin's decision in Floyd v. City of New York found that many New Yorkers, especially those of color, had been illegally searched by New York police officers as a part of the stop-and-frisk program because officers had no permissible reasonable suspicion to detain and search.

According to Scheindlin's decision, individuals like Leroy Downs had been stopped because officers assumed he was "smoking weed," leading them to restrain Downs and search inside his pockets and wallet, in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights.

Scheindlin also noted the stop-and-frisk policy used race as a primary factor in stopping "the right people" -- primarily black and Hispanic residents -- in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protection clause. She held that NYC was liable for allowing this practice to happen.

For both Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment violations, Judge Scheindlin found the stop-and-frisk tactic unconstitutional.

Bloomberg has stated that the city will appeal Scheindlin's ruling, ironically claiming that she didn't give the city "a fair trial," reports The New York Times.

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