In the US, human right is the thread that holds the fabric of America’s diverse identity. One very important right: to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. The Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution protects this right. In addition to protecting the right of a person to unreasonable search and seizure, the Fourth Amendment also extends this right to homes, cars, etc. belonging to an American citizen. The bottom line of this right is to ensure that the government and its officials can only enter the premises of an individual when they meet any of the following conditions:
- Obtains consent from the homeowner
- Government official has probable cause
- Government officer obtains a warrant signed by a magistrate based on probable cause
- If exigent circumstances exist
“Stop and Frisk” and Fourth Amendment Protections
The protections accorded to homes and personal effects are also binding on our bodies. Thus, our bodies may not be searched or seized/arrested/incarcerated by the government or officials. However, as realities evolved, the law loosened to permit law enforcement officials to effect searches and seizures on people, especially when such action stems from the officer’s belief that the person to be searched or arrested is a threat to public safety or has committed a crime in the past. The details of this law, called “Stop and Frisk” legislation, contain the parameters that guide legal searches and seizures of people in the public.
Can an Officer Stop and Detain?
Under Florida Stop and Frisk law, the only conditions that offer officers the right to temporarily stop or detain any person in public include if it reasonably appears that the person:
- Is about to commit a crime
- Is in the middle of committing a crime
- Has committed a crime
Furthermore, this purpose of this detainment is solely to determine the identity of the detainee and/or further investigate ONLY the circumstances that led the officer to believe any of the above conditions were met in the first place.
Acceptable Duration of “Temporary” Detainment
The duration for which a person might be temporarily detained is not clearly stipulated by the law. However, legal interpretation posits that the duration should be as long as reasonably necessary. Therefore, it is up to the officer’s best judgment as to what is within the reasonable time limit. The only condition being that ONLY circumstances relating to why the individual was detained is investigated.
Right for Officers to Frisk and Seize
Two outcomes may result after an individual is temporarily detained and the scenario is investigated further:
- The officer releases the detained individual
- The officer further detains (arrest or seize) the individual
The second outcome can only occur if the officer has built into a few facts the notion that the individual stopped was about to, was in the process of, or had commit a crime. The right of an officer to frisk an individual is based on the officer’s perception that:
- The individual is dangerously armed, and
- The individual is deemed to be a threat to the safety of the officer or another person
Frisking may only occur to determine the armed status of the individual—armed or unarmed. The ONLY procedure approved for this activity is a pat down search. An officer may not coerce a detainee to disrobe. If during the search, the officer finds evidence that proves that a crime was perpetrated, the officer may seize the evidence and serve that evidence against the individual at his/her criminal proceeding. If you were arrested and believe you were the victim of an illegal search, an experienced criminal lawyer can file a motion to have any incriminating evidence that was found, thrown out in court.