by Jay A. Perry
|New York City|
A Federal Judge in New York
recently granted class-action status to potentially thousands of plaintiffs in
a suit involving alleged 4th
Amendment violations by the New York
City Police Department. The suit claims
that the New York City Police engaged in a policy of committing rampant unlawful
stops” or short stops and
frisks of people on the streets of the city.
The Fourth Amendment prohibits “unreasonable
searches and seizures” and in Terry v. Ohio
the Supreme Court ruled that the prohibition is not violated when the police
stop a suspect on the street and frisk them without probable cause to arrest. However, the Court said that before making
such a stop the police need “reasonable suspicion” that the suspect is
committing (or is about to commit) a crime.
Furthermore, the police need reasonable suspicion that the suspect is
armed or dangerous to take the further step of frisking for weapons. Reasonable suspicion is more than just a “hunch”
and needs to be based on “specific and articulable facts”.
The Plaintiffs claim that the
police department of New York City disproportionately stop and frisk minority
people and have not reformed their policies as required by a settlement in 2003
of a similar suit. The Court in granting
the class certification noted that between 2004 and 2009 there were over 2.8
stops. Over half of those stops were of Black people
and thirty percent were of Latinos. Only
ten percent of the stops were of Whites.
The Court also recognized the important societal interest in the case
and noted that the plaintiffs are not seeking monetary damages but only a
declarative judgment and injunction.
It will be interesting to follow
this case and see how many plaintiffs come forward to take part. In over 2.8 million stops there must be
thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of people involved. If the Plaintiffs allegations are true then a
good number of those people had their constitutional rights violated. While a “stop and frisk” does not take a long
time it surely has consequence to the person detained and frisked without good
cause. As the Supreme Court in Terry
noted, being stop and frisked “must
surely be an annoying, frightening, and perhaps humiliating experience.”
For more on the alleged abuses by
the New York City Police Department, see This American Life #414 “Right to Remain Silent”
. The episode contains the
story of a NYC police officer who secretly recorded himself and fellow officers
for 17 months capturing evidence of the type of abuses alleged by the
Plaintiffs in the suit.