A rare win for the fourth amendment


A federal judge has ruled that the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy has, in practice, massively violated the constitutional rights of New Yorkers:

In a decision issued on Monday, the judge, Shira A. Scheindlin, ruled that police officers have for years been systematically stopping innocent people in the street without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing. Officers often frisked these people, usually young minority men, for weapons or searched their pockets for contraband, like drugs, before letting them go, according to the 195-page decision.

These stop-and-frisk episodes, which soared in number over the last decade as crime continued to decline, demonstrated a widespread disregard for the Fourth Amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government, according to the ruling. It also found violations with the 14th Amendment.

You can read the 195 page ruling here, but the gist of Scheindlin’s judgement is clear — stop-and-frisk had so lowered the legal standard for investigating suspicious behavior as to become meaningless, and the policy has disproportionately impacted and violated the fourth amendment rights of the minority community. Indeed, as ThinkProgress notes, “police have stopped more young black men than the population of young black men in New York.”

Advocates of the practice, of course, tout the policy as an effective policing tool, but there’s not been any actual research proving that effectiveness. Moreover, the ‘innocence rate’ (going back to 2002) has never been below 82 percent. According to that same data, last year 89 percent — nearly 9 out of 10 — of those frisked were found innocent, and black and Latino residents accounted for 87 percent such stops.

I assume there’s a good chance it’ll be appealed, but for now it’s a rare and long overdue affirmation of the fourth amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.


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