Police officers in New Jersey perform a very challenging job. They need to deter and investigate crime whenever possible, while making every reasonable effort not to violate anyone’s civil rights. Unfortunately, some officers let prior experiences or personal biases influence how they do their jobs in ways that prioritize the first concern to a far greater extent than the second.
Some officers consciously or subconsciously target people in certain communities or with specific characteristics, such as members of a certain race, for unwarranted police interactions. Although an officer has no reason to connect an individual to criminal activity, they might try to ask that person leading questions or even physically search them to look for a reason to arrest them.
There are rules that govern a stop-and-frisk encounter, and when police officers violate them, those mistakes can influence the defendant’s options if they end up facing charges.
When is a stop-and-frisk lawful?
There have been numerous criminal trials in which the legality of an officer’s questionable search of an individual was the key to the entire legal matter. If the only evidence the state has comes from an illegal search, a prosecutor may have to drop the charges if a judge agrees to exclude that evidence from a trial. Clarifying when police officers can frisk someone or search them physically without their consent and when not preparing to place them in police custody eventually became necessary, and the Supreme Court established crucial clarification.
The federal Supreme Court established a rule for what people have since called Terry stops. A Terry stop or stop-and-frisk encounter is typically only justifiable when a police officer has reason to suspect the presence of a weapon that puts them at physical risk. Suspicion of other contraband, including prohibited drugs, or mere presents in a neighborhood with high crime rates would not be justification to physically search someone’s person on its own. Some people, unaware of their rights, will give up their basic protection and allow an officer to search them, which might make whatever the officer finds legal to use in court.
Evaluating evidence is important to any criminal defense
The state prosecutor presenting their case in a trial will need compelling evidence to secure a conviction. Only when there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt will a jury convict someone of a crime. The ability to exclude certain evidence from a trial can make a major difference in someone’s chances of mounting a successful criminal defense.
Seeking legal guidance to learn more about the rules that apply to police encounters can help those who have been recently arrested prepare effectively for criminal court.