What is a Frisk and What Are Your Rights During a Frisk?

You have probably heard of a police “frisk” or “stop and frisk.” This is a common procedure used by law enforcement that raises many critical constitutional rights questions. Given how often it is used, it is important that you understand what a frisk is and what rights you have during a police frisk.

A frisk is often known as a law enforcement pat down. It is different from a full body search in that the purpose of a frisk is to ensure law enforcement safety by determining whether or not a suspect has a weapon on them. With a pat down, law enforcement do not have the authority to palpate, expose, or otherwise more deeply explore more private areas of the body. They are simply able to pat down a person’s outer clothing to feel for weapons.

Under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, individuals have a right to be protected against unreasonable government searches and seizures. This includes police frisks. Both the Arizona Supreme Court and the United States Supreme Court have held that, for a police frisk to be constitutional under the Fourth Amendment, two factors must be satisfied: police have a reasonable suspicion that the person they are patting down is undertaking criminal activity, and police have a reasonable belief that this person is also armed and dangerous.

You may be wondering, “What is reasonable suspicion?” This is also an important legal concept that has been litigated. Reasonable suspicion exists when law enforcement have objective facts which are specific to the situation at hand and that can be clearly articulated, which indicate that a person is currently or about to commit a crime. Reasonable suspicion does not exist when law enforcement simply “have a hunch” that someone is currently engaging or is about to engage in criminal activity.

These complex-sounding legal issues play out in real life in many ways. For example, we have represented many clients who were frisked by police simply because they happened to be walking or driving through a high crime area. But, simply being present in a high crime area is not enough under the law to give police officers reasonable suspicion to frisk you. We have also represented clients who were frisked because of the actions of another person. Unless your conduct also raises reasonable suspicion, you cannot be frisked based upon another person’s actions.

When clients come to us after having been frisked by the police, many times police found items on them that they use to arrest and charge them. This could be a weapon the person is carrying for self-defense, or it could be a small amount of drugs. We aggressively argue that this evidence should be suppressed and that the case should be dismissed because the frisk itself was unconstitutional. We have secured victories for many clients who were unconstitutionally frisked.

If you are charged with a crime as the result of a frisk and are concerned that your Fourth Amendment rights may have been violated, the best thing you can do for yourself is to give Arizona Lawyers a call. We have successfully defended clients in the Phoenix, Scottsdale, Mesa, Yuma, Flagstaff, and Glenndale areas, and are ready to help you. Contact us today.