What Are Your Rights During a Stop and Frisk in Pennsylvania?

Legally reviewed by:
Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C.
May 22, 2024

Stop and frisk brings up a range of issues. Some groups consider stop and frisk a clear failure of public safety policy. However, the practice is legal under Pennsylvania’s policing procedures, provided it is used appropriately to address suspicions of criminal activity. Under the guidelines, if a law enforcement officer believes that someone has been involved in criminal activity or is about to commit a crime, they may be stopped.

It is also important to keep in mind that some crimes are excluded under stop and frisk. These crimes are typically considered low-level, such as an open container, smoking marijuana, or trespassing laws. Law enforcement officers also have a right to stop and frisk anyone they believe may be armed. However, this does not mean that a person subjected to stop and frisk is without rights. Stop and frisk policies are also aimed at addressing concerns related to gun violence and violent crime, though their effectiveness and impact on communities remain subjects of controversy.

What Can You Say or Do During a Stop and Frisk?

Anyone stopped under the stop and frisk guidelines in Pennsylvania should be aware of what can be said or done during the stop. Here are some of the issues that can arise:

  • Right to remain silent: a person who is stopped is under no obligation to answer any questions posed by law enforcement officers during a stop and frisk in Pennsylvania. This is a 5th Amendment Right under the US constitution.
  • Right to information: a police officer has to provide a person who is stopped and frisked with their name and badge number. Additionally, for a stop and frisk to be lawful, officers must have ‘reasonable suspicion’ of criminal activity, a legal standard established by the Supreme Court case Terry v. Ohio.
  • Right to ask to leave: a person has a right to ask if they are free to go during a stop and frisk. If someone is told they are being detained, they have the right to ask the reason for being detained.
  • Right to record: anyone subject to stop and frisk in Pennsylvania also has the right to record the interaction with law enforcement.

When someone is stopped and frisked, they do have to submit to a search which is conducted by a police officer. However, it is also important to be aware that “frisk” is limited to patting a person down over their clothing. Additionally, when someone is subjected to a stop and frisk, they must provide the law enforcement officer with their name. Refusal to present identification may result in an arrest and a charge, which would be considered a summary offense. Protections against ‘unreasonable searches’ are a cornerstone of the Fourth Amendment, ensuring that individuals’ rights are safeguarded during stop and frisk encounters.

Frequently Asked Questions About Reasonable Suspicion and Stop and Frisk in Pennsylvania

Every resident of Pennsylvania has questions about stop and frisk rules, because every resident is subject to the rules. The police department plays a crucial role in overseeing and training police officers to conduct stop and frisks appropriately, emphasizing the importance of police conduct to ensure officer safety and uphold the law. These actions are guided by the need to ensure officer safety, a paramount concern that justifies certain police actions such as frisking individuals to ascertain they are not armed. However, it is essential that these measures are based on reasonable suspicion and specific evidence, as concerns for officer safety cannot transform an otherwise illegal stop into a legal one. This framework helps police officers navigate the delicate balance between maintaining public safety and respecting individual rights.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions:

What Happens if I Have a Legal Weapon in My Possession During a Stop and Frisk?

Anyone who possesses a weapon and is subjected to a stop and frisk should immediately notify the officer involved there is a weapon on their person. This can prevent an otherwise benign situation from becoming confrontational. One of the objectives of stop and frisk is to prevent gun violence by identifying and addressing potential threats during police encounters.

Does Stop and Frisk Mean I Am Going to Be Arrested?

No. Stop and frisk does not mean that someone will automatically be arrested and charged with a crime. However, when asking an officer if they may leave after being frisked, if the answer is no, then there is a possibility of an arrest.

Do I Have to Answer a Police Officer’s Questions During a Stop and Frisk?

No. Anyone who is stopped and frisked is under no obligation to say anything more than their name and possibly their address. Police may ask additional questions, but the person being stopped has a right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions.

Do I Have to Provide Photo Identification During a Stop and Frisk?

No. There is no legal obligation to provide photo identification when someone is targeted for a stop and frisk in Pennsylvania. When someone has been informed they are being detained, they have to provide photo identification if asked or risk jail time.

Do I Have to Allow Police to Search Bags, Backpacks, or Other Items to Ensure Officer Safety During a Stop and Frisk?

No. There is no requirement that someone must allow a search of their belongings. Stop and frisk rules only allow for a pat down of the person. You can refuse consent to a further search unless the law enforcement officers inform you they believe the bag contains a weapon to which the person being stopped has not admitted. If the officer involved in the stop and frisk does reach for a bag or other personal item, the person has the right to say they object to the search.

What Steps Should I Take to Avoid Criminal Charges if I Believe My Rights Were Violated During a Stop and Frisk?

Whether someone is charged with a crime due to a stop and frisk or not, if they believe their rights have been violated, they can file a complaint with the Philadelphia Police Department for immediate review. The person charged with a crime should also speak with a criminal defense attorney immediately and tell them what happened, what charges they are facing, and learn more about their options. For those seeking further legal recourse, there is the option to appeal cases involving stop and frisk to the Pennsylvania Superior Court.

Contact the Criminal Defense Attorneys at Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg, and Gifford, P.C

When someone has been through a stop and frisk and has been arrested or detained, they should seek immediate legal counsel. The sooner this is done, the better. In some cases, the stop and frisk may have been conducted in a manner that is considered illegal, and any evidence which was collected may be excluded if a person is facing prosecution for a crime.

Anyone arrested for any charge, regardless of how minor, should contact a lawyer immediately. It is never a good idea for a person to attempt to represent themselves since they often do not know how the criminal court process works. When you work with a skilled criminal defense lawyer at Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford, P.C., a defendant will have more than six decades of experience on their side. Contact their offices today at (215) 822-7575 or fill out our contact form and learn more about how they can help defend against criminal charges after a stop and frisk in Pennsylvania.

Legally reviewed by:
Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C.
Pennsylvania Attorney's
May 22, 2024
Established in 1952 by Irwin S. Rubin, Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C. boasts over 65 years of experience serving clients throughout Pennsylvania. Renowned for its commitment to ethical representation, the firm has garnered prestigious accolades, including being named the "Best Law Firm" for its outstanding legal defense work by U.S. News & World Report. Their team of seasoned attorneys, recognized as Pennsylvania Super Lawyers and Rising Stars, brings unparalleled expertise to a wide range of legal matters, ensuring exceptional representation for individuals, families, businesses, and organizations.