In our last post, we wrote about a June Supreme Court ruling that gives police greater powers to conduct unwarranted searches of suspects. Let’s say that an officer stops someone without reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, demands ID and then runs a background check on that person. The background check reveals an outstanding arrest warrant for something minor like a traffic infraction. The officer uses this as a justification for searching the suspect.
The Court held that even in situations like this, where the officer illegally detained someone, a search is allowable because of the outstanding warrant. As such, any evidence gathered in the search can be used in court.
For those of us who live in New York City, this sounds very similar to “stop and frisk,” a practice and policy which has been the subject of considerable controversy and lengthy court battles. At peak use in 2011, the stop and frisk program allowed police to detain people 685,000 times in a single year. Just 6 percent of cases ended in arrest, and another 6 percent resulted in summonses.
Thankfully, three years ago, a federal district court ruled that stop and frisk was in violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure. It was also found to be discriminatory against minorities. The court appointed an outside party to monitor major reforms in how police departments handled stops, frisks and searches.
As noted in the New York Times, these changes were both necessary and welcome. But there is still much work to be done to ensure that police officers are not allowed to violate the rights of New Yorkers.