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Which three stops are legal in NY?

This isn't the type of quiz that should make you break out in a cold sweat. Unfortunately, this type of quiz has implications that can have a much larger impact on your life than a pop quiz in your high school history class.

Having a basic understanding of your rights when stopped by the police is important. Even if you are not sure of your rights during a stop, it is important to have the stop reviewed if it led to evidence that is supporting criminal charges. Police have strict requirements that must be followed. A failure to comply with these requirements can result in a finding that the stop was illegal. This could lead to a dismissal of charges.

So, time to test your knowledge about basic police stops. Which of the following is an illegal stop in New York?

  • Option 1: Police set up a checkpoint and conduct random stops. During these stops, police check for drunk drivers.
  • Option 2: Police see a person walking down the road and stop him, claiming they suspect he has drugs in his possession.
  • Option 3: Police stop a pedestrian after the pedestrian spots the police and promptly runs away.

Take a second to choose an answer, then read the elaborations below to find which stop was illegal.

Can officers conduct random checkpoint stops?

Yes, officers are allowed to conduct drunk driving checkpoint stops. The Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled in 2000 that officers are allowed to conduct these checkpoints because drunk drivers pose an "immediate hazard". As a result, arguments about violations to Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures are outweighed by public safety concerns.

It is important to note that there are limitations. This allowance encompasses drunk driving, it does not allow officers to conduct random checkpoint stops to search for drugs.

Can officers stop a pedestrian they suspect of having drugs?

Generally, the answer to this one is no. As a result, the answer to the quiz above is Option 2. It is illegal for officers to stop a pedestrian and conduct a search based on a mere suspicion of illegal activity.

Of course, the law is often grey. An exception was established by SCOTUS in 1963. If an officer's suspicion is supported with observations of "unusual conduct which leads [the officer] to conclude in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot and that the persons with whom he is dealing may be armed and presently dangerous" a stop is legal.

Can officers stop a pedestrian that sees them and promptly runs away?

A second case, decided in 2000, gave additional clarification. In this case, an individual in an area with a reputation spotted police and took off running. SCOTUS held that this combination was enough to support a search.

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