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Courts Have Declared New York’s Stop and Frisk Policy Unconstitutional

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Presidential nominee Donald Trump made some headlines recently when, during the first presidential debate of the campaign, he said that the police practice of “stop and frisk,” also called Terry stops, that had been used in New York City should be used on a national scale.

To defend this statement, Trump claimed that New York’s use of stop and frisk had been perfectly constitutional, that it was not ruled unconstitutional by the courts, and that it had worked to reduce crime.

We’ve already gone over why New York City’s use of stop and frisk was unconstitutional [***LINK TO SEPT. BLOG 10***]. Here’s why Trump is incorrect in saying that courts hadn’t already outlawed the practice.

What Trump Said

The exchange happened during the first presidential debate, on September 26, 2016. Moderator Lester Holt fact-checked a prior statement by Trump, and pointed out that “stop and frisk was ruled unconstitutional in New York.”

Trump responded with, “No, you’re wrong. It went before a judge, who was a very against-police judge. It was taken away from her. And [Mayor Bill de Blasio] refused to forward with the case. They would have won an appeal.”

Some of what Trump said is, technically, true. However, it glosses over what really happened.

Courts Ruled New York City’s Stop and Frisk Policy Was Unconstitutional

The New York City Police Department (NYPD) adopted an official stop and frisk policy in 2002. In the following years, stop and frisk was used overwhelmingly on minorities. Some blacks and Hispanics who were stopped sued the NYPD, claiming it violated their Constitutional rights under the Fourth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

The case went to court, where U.S. District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin sided with the plaintiffs. In an extensive opinion, Judge Scheindlin said that the NYPD’s stop and frisk policy violated the Constitution.

Judge Removed from the Case

Judge Scheindlin’s ruling was groundbreaking and highly controversial and the NYPD appealed it. The publicity led Scheindlin to do several interviews on her ruling. These interviews made the appellate court remove her from the case because they compromised the “appearance of impartiality” required to be a judge.

New Mayor Drops Case

Appeals take time, and before the appellate court could make a decision on Scheindlin’s ruling, Mayor Bill de Blasio took office from former Mayor Michael Bloomberg. A big part of de Blasio’s campaign was to rebuild the relationships between communities and the NYPD. To further this, de Blasio dropped the appeal. Without one of the parties to the case, the appellate court threw away the appeal, leaving Scheindlin’s ruling to stand – New York’s stop and frisk policy was, and still is, unconstitutional.

Maine Criminal Defense Attorney William T. Bly

Politicians – especially in the heat of a debate – frequently oversimplify things for the sake of time and their own reputation and agenda. These misleading statements, however, can sway voters and, through them, an entire election. That’s why it’s important to get the facts right.

If you’ve been charged with a crime in the state of Maine, contact the Biddeford law office of criminal defense attorney William T. Bly online or at (207) 571-8146.


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