July in New York has been an eventful time concerning the controversial stop-and-frisk procedures taking place. Although the practice has been in effect for some time now, added controversy has arisen recently with two felony gun convictions stemming from an initial stop-and-frisk being overturned by a New York Appeals Court.
The Appeals Court ruling was entered a month after a Manhattan federal judge allowed a class action suit regarding the divisive procedure to move forward. This appeal was the resulting action following the conviction of a 14 year-old who was found in possession of a loaded gun after being stopped by police because they observed him putting ‘an object’ into his backpack. Although convicted as a juvenile, the presiding judge conceded that a felony firearm conviction can lead to over 3 years in state prison (§265.03) if he were tried as an adult, making the stakes quite high for individuals in similar situations. The appellate panel overturned the August 2010 decision, and in doing so, struck a major blow to the NYPD’s stop-and-frisk program.
The program itself is used as a crime deterrent by allowing police officers to stop and search individuals in areas of high rates of crime. The procedure does require “reasonable suspicion” but many opponents say that a large proportion of the stops are done in a manner that erases your fourth amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.
The appeals case asserted that reasonable suspicion could not be formed based on the officer’s observations because they conceded that the object bore no obvious hallmarks of a weapon. The ruling statement was written by Justice Angela M. Mazzarelli, who also stated that, “there were no other objective indicia of criminality because there were plausible, non-criminal reasons for appellant’s behavior.” The dissension arguments to the ruling included that the circumstances justified the initial questioning of the teen based on common law and that questioning provided police with reasonable suspension that the teen was illegally carrying a gun.
Although the procedure of stop-and-frisk has likely prevented some crimes from occurring, due to the proactive and aggressive nature of the police force and the commonality of the procedure, it is still a flawed and worrisome crime prevention technique. The process simply provides more negative ramifications to the justice system than potential positives. Not only does law enforcement have more power than it should in these circumstances, but the individual liberties that people have understood to be inherent are being slowly dissolved by this ever more belligerent stance on preventing crime.
Unless there is a foolproof manner of stopping crime before it happens, a stop-and-frisk edict will only serve to complicate the legal system and divert huge amounts of state resources going through multiple trials and appeals. With more New York criminal defense attorneys appealing rulings and a large amount being ultimate overturning by higher courts, it would be in New York State’s best interest to find ways to improve its search techniques or abolish them altogether.
The current statistics are alarming, with 685,724 people stopped and frisked in 2011. This is a 600% increase since Mayor Bloomberg took office. Nine out of ten of the individuals stopped were proven innocent, without being arrested or ticketed, and 87% of those stopped were Black or Latino. A quick glance at these numbers shows an inefficiency that costs taxpayers money and diverts resources and manpower that could be used for more legitimate examples of criminal suspicion.
Evolving the process is always necessary in any aspect of life, particularly in such a sensitive area as criminal justice. New York has a great deal of work ahead of it to fix the current issues with its stop-and-frisk policies and develop an effective response to crime and crime prevention.