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Is a stop-and-frisk encounter a violation of someone’s rights?

On Behalf of | Jun 14, 2024 | Civil Rights

Police officers often help protect the public and enforce the law. However, they are also in a position to violate people’s civil rights. Police officers seeking to deter criminal activity or solve a case sometimes engage in inappropriate behavior.

Certain types of police conduct violate people’s civil rights and might lead to legal challenges. In some cases, it is possible to suppress evidence obtained by police officers who behave inappropriately. Other times, people may bring lawsuits against the state, police departments or individual officers for the direct harm caused by an officer’s actions.

For people to assert themselves, they first need to be able to recognize when an officer has violated their rights. Does a decision to stop and frisk a random member of the public violate the rights of that individual?

New Mexico does not recommend stop-and-frisk encounters

Police officers must do everything within their power to comply with the law and uphold the rights of each person they encounter. Even if an officer suspects someone of criminal activity, that person’s rights should be more important than the officer’s potentially unfounded suspicions.

During an encounter on public or private property, such as an interaction on a sidewalk, a police officer needs a valid justification to detain someone. They also need a reason to search someone. Stop-and-frisk encounters were once quite common, especially in certain neighborhoods with high crime rates.

However, numerous court rulings and changing public opinion have largely put a stop to such practices. New Mexico actively warns police officers in draining materials about the risk of conducting stop-and-frisk searches. Generally speaking, officers only have the right to frisk or pat someone down in scenarios where they obtain consent from the individual or when they believe that the person is in possession of a dangerous weapon.

What if an officer violates someone’s rights?

Some officers pat people down during an encounter where they do not have grounds to arrest that person. They do so in the hopes of finding evidence that could lead to an arrest. A defense attorney can potentially suppress evidence gained through illegal activity, including drugs or other contraband found on someone’s person during an illegal pat-down search.

Individuals who face criminal charges based on a stop-and-frisk encounter may need to look at the situation carefully to determine if it involved police misconduct. Defendants who know their rights can use that knowledge as the basis for their criminal defense strategy.