Philadelphia’s Mayoral Democratic Primary is in the homestretch, and many believe that it will ultimately decide the next Mayor based on the 7-1 democrat advantage over the minority Republican party. The election has focused on variety of issue but violence appears to be at the top of the list. Philadelphia was among the top 10 U.S. counties with the largest population drops from 2021 to 2022. While “experts” have cited various reasons for this mass exodus, it is hard not to look at the spike in crime throughout the city as a major factor. There were 193 carjackings in 2017, but the number increased substantially since that time with 409 in 2020, 847 in 2021 and over 850 currently in 2022. In addition to carjacking, theft from unattended vehicles also increased substantially in Philadelphia with less than 2,000 in 2019 and over 9,000 in 2021.
One of the latest issues to combat the spiking violence is Stop & Frisk, which at least some of the candidates have deemed an illegal police tactic. Most people, however, including some mayoral candidates, don’t understand their rights, specifically those pertaining to illegal arrest, search and seizure.
When can a police officer stop someone on the street or road in Philadelphia or anywhere in Pennsylvania?
Usually, a police officer or state trooper must have probable cause to stop a pedestrian on the street or a vehicle on the road. Most states, including Pennsylvania, however allow a law enforcement officer to stop a car under Reasonable Suspicion (a lower form of Probable Cause) if the officer believes that the driver is intoxicated (crossing the double lines, driving very slow, etc.). Pennsylvania also permits an officer to stop a pedestrian if the officer has reasonable suspicion that person presents a danger to others or the officer.
Probable Cause vs. Reasonable Suspicion
Probable cause is the reasonable belief that a crime was or is being committed and Reasonable Suspicion is a lower form of Probable Cause. During a traffic stop police can establish probable cause if they observe a driver speeding or disobeying some other section of the vehicle code
Police Car Stops in Pennsylvania
Once the police stop a car, they are permitted to investigate the cause of this traffic violation or confirm their suspicion. During the investigation the police will ask for your driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. If during this investigation, the police officer has reasonable suspicion that you have committed some crime or are about to commit a crime the officer may take you out of the car and frisk you along with the occupants in order to protect the officer’s safety. This is known as a “Terry Stop and Frisk” and it is named for the US Supreme Court case of Terry v. Ohio.
In this case, the Court found that while these brief detentions and frisk were seizures and searches under the 4th Amendment to the United States Constitution but that they were permissible. The Court found that this type of investigation didn’t violate the Constitution because of the need to protect the officer and the public from potential criminal act. In Pennsylvania, a stop and frisk is limited to a subject’s or suspect’s person. Other states may, however, allow the officer to search other compartments that are in a person’s immediate control such as a glove box or a center console area.
Stop & Frisk does violate your rights but…
While a stop and frisk does technically violate your Constitutional Right under the 4th and 14th Amendments, the law permits this “minor” infringement because the public’s interest supersedes your constitutional rights. This is law in the Commonwealth and Philadelphia’s next mayor, whoever that person may be, can’t change it despite their opposition to it. The Mayor can, however, direct the police commissioner, who serves at his or her pleasure, to adopt certain department policies to lessen stop and frisk incidents. These policies, however, are not the law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
During a stop and frisk if the officer feels an item that, based on his/her experience, appears to be contraband (i.e. drugs or guns) he/she is permitted to seize it and also extend the search to that area. Normally, police aren’t permitted to search other areas unless that item is in “plain view”.
How long can the police stop last?
Finally, while the law permits this infringement on your constitutional rights, the investigative detention can’t last an extended period of time. The law doesn’t place an exact time limit on an investigative detention but it will consider that length of time when determining if the stop and frisk violated your rights.
It is important to have a strong understanding of “Terry Stops and Frisk” which the law classifies as investigative detentions. During investigative detentions a police officer is not required to inform a person of their Miranda Rights. The officer’s only required to issue Miranda Rights if the investigation escalates to a custodial arrest.
If you’re stopped by police remain calm and never give them consent to search you or your car. If you more questions regarding this important concept, call our office.
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