What are Stop-and-Frisk laws in Illinois?

A recent development in New York City prompts a frank discussion about what Stop-and-Frisk laws are, how they are unofficially changing, and how you can protect yourself if you are unlawfully stopped and frisked by police.  The short answer to the above is yes because the basis of the law comes from the highest court in the country.

Stop-and-Frisk laws come from the important United States Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio.  In this case, the Court had to answer the question whether a police stop of a suspect who was then frisked for weapons to ensure officer safety amounted to a “seizure.”  This is an important question because a seizure implicates the Fourth Amendment and protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures.  The answer to this question was no, a stop-and-frisk isn’t a seizure, its merely an inconvenience, but police must have reasonable suspicion that the person is armed and dangerous in order to do so.

Terry stop is also ok if police have reasonable suspicion that a felony has already occurred.  Police must be able to clearly state valid reasons why they suspect that person is connected to a felony crime that has already occurred.  See U.S. v. Hensley.

Seems simple enough, unless you’ve been following what’s been happening in New York City.  The New Yorker recently reported on NYPD practices and policies to conduct suspicionless stops-and-frisks of pedestrians.  At the heart of this controversy is the concern that police are stopping people based on race rather than any concern for weaponry or criminal activity.  There are roughly 600,000 pedestrian stops a year by police, mostly of minority citizens.  This issue is coming to a head by the lawsuit brought by several victims of these unlawful police practices in Floyd v. City of New York.  The legal challenge is that police are unofficially expanding the Terry doctrine in support of stopping anyone officers find suspicious, with no reasons to support that suspicion beyond race or being in a high crime area.

Why does this matter to the people of Illinois?  It matters because large cities like Chicago face similar challenges to crime prevention and control and is governed by the same legal principles as New York when it comes to Terry stops.  Given the reports about racial profiling and questionable police practices, this may already be occurring in Chicago and elsewhere.  The Wall Street Journal printed a letter last year that called for Chicago to start doing what New York has done if it hasn’t already!

This is not a simple issue nor is there a simple solution.  The most important thing to remember is that you have rights.  If you are stopped on the street by police for no reason, understand that they must suspect you are carrying a weapon or have been involved in a felony before they can frisk you.  If you think your rights were violated in by a suspiciounless stop-and-frisk that led to your arrest, you have a valid defense.  There is no one better to protect those rights than a qualified Illinois Criminal Defense Attorney.

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