Expert Witness is Allowed to Testify in Stop and Frisk Lawsuit

Police powers of “stop and frisk” have proved controversial with landmark legal cases in Texas and elsewhere.

New York is the current focus of the dispute due to a rigorous implementation of the power by the city’s police department.

The New York Police Department recently lost an attempt to prevent an expert witness testifying about its contentious “stop and frisk” policy.

Four plaintiffs have brought a lawsuit that claims this crime fighting tactic is used disproportionately against black and Hispanics.

And while the NYPD is more than happy to implement “stop and frisk” it seems more reticent about hearing arguments from the opponents of the tactic.

The police department tried to prevent Columbia University professor Jeffrey Fagan, from presenting research that suggests police are more likely to stop blacks and Hispanics than white suspects, Thomson Reuters reported.

Fagan studied the results of 2.8 million arrest worksheets over a five year period from 2004 and 2009. The criminologist’s study showed blacks and Hispanics were more likely to be stopped and frisked than whites.

Manhattan federal court Judge Shira Scheindlin ruled Fagan was an expert and he should be allowed to testify.

Stop and frisk policies remain highly controversial. Frisking is a search of a person’s outer clothing to detect items such as concealed weapons or drugs.

These searches are known as “Terry stops” after the 1968 U.S. Supreme Court case of Terry v. Ohio. Although the Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable seizures and searches, the case held an officer can briefly detain a person, based upon reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, long enough to dispel the suspicion or to allow it to rise to the level of probable cause for an arrest.

The New York Civil Liberties Union says the New York Police Department’s stop-and-frisk practices “raise serious concerns over racial profiling, illegal stops and privacy rights.”

It refers to the police department’s own reports on stop-and-frisk activity.

“The police are stopping hundreds of thousands of law abiding New Yorkers every year, and the vast majority are black and Latino,” the union stated.

The union said its research revealed that more than 4 million innocent New Yorkers were the subject of police stops and street interrogations from 2004 through 2011, and that “black and Latino communities continue to be the overwhelming target of these tactics.”

The limits of the stop and frisk powers were set out by the U.S. Supreme Court case of Texas v. Brown in 1979 that ruled a Texas statute was unlawful.

Texas had a law making it a criminal act for a person to refuse to give his or name and address to an officer when asked to.

The case concerned the arrest of a man who refused to provide his identity to police officers in El Paso County.

The Supreme Court justices ruled the application of the Texas statute to detain the appellant and force him to identify himself, violated the Fourth Amendment because the police officers lacked reasonable suspicion to believe that he had been involved or was engaged in criminal conduct.

In recent years pat downs at airports have been brought in by the Transportation Security Agency.

Restrictions on the TSA’s ability to search another person without probable cause to believe an offense was committed and on where a person could be touched, were enacted by Texas lawmakers in 2011.

Mick Mickelsen is a nationally recognized criminal trial attorney with more than 30 years of experience defending people charged with white-collar crimes, drug offenses, sex crimes, murder, and other serious state and federal offenses.