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An individual’s rights according to the United States Constitution includes the right of protection from the federal government from unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment. One of the current debates is the police’s discretion with stop and frisk procedures, which many believe falls under unreasonable search and seizure as well as racial targeting. The purpose of the stop and frisk policy is to allow police officers to stop an individual, ask them questions, and frisk them if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that an individual is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a crime. In Terry vs. Ohio, the U.S. Supreme Court decided this was constitutionally adequate, a balance between an individual’s liberty and law and order [1].

The first major study to quantify this targeting was completed between 1998 and 1999 in New York City. New York Police Department (NYDP) stopped 175,000 people, of those, Blacks and Hispanics comprised of 49.3% of the city’s population, but accounted for 83.6% of the stops NYPD conducted. On the other hand, Whites comprised of 43.4% of the city’s population but only accounted for 12.9% of the NYPD stops [2]. This research would indicate that perhaps police use of discretion may be biased towards minorities whether that be intentional or subconscious.

The Arkansas Constitution also protects citizens against unreasonable search and seizure under Article 2 § 15, which states,

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“The right of the people of this State to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated; and no warrant shall issue, except upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or thing to be seized.”

Exceptions to this article include an “investigatory stop” (Terry stop). Arkansas law recognizes that where felonies or crimes involving a threat to public safety are concerned, the government’s interest in solving the crime and promptly detaining the suspect outweighs the individual’s right to be free or a brief stop and detention. The justification for the investigative stop depends on the totality of the circumstances, if the police have specific, particularized, and articulable reasons indicating the person or vehicle may be involved in criminal activity[3].

In Van Patten v. State of Arkansas, a Little Rock police officer received a radio call that there was a loud party disturbance at an apartment and the person creating the disturbance had left in a brown Jeep. While responding to the apartment, the officer observed a brown Jeep. The officer stopped the Jeep solely based on the information he had received from the call. When Van Patten stepped out of the vehicle, he smelled of alcohol and staggered. The officer administered a breathalyzer and arrested him for driving while intoxicated. Van Patten was fined $150.00 plus costs, sentenced to twenty-four hours in jail, suspended driver’s license for ninety days, and ordered to complete an alcoholic rehabilitation program. On appeal, the case was reversed and dismissed because the officer did not have specific, particular, or articulable reasons to suspect that a felony or a misdemeanor involving danger of injury to persons or property had been committed. The court found that the officer’s stop of Van Patten was unreasonable and violated Van Patten’s Fourth Amendment rights and therefore the evidence of the DWI should have been excluded [3].

[1] Tracey Meares, Programming errors: Understanding the constitutionality of stop-and-frisk as a program, not an incident, 82, The University of Chicago Law Review, 159-179,, (2015)

[2] Joseph Ferrandino, Minority threat hypothesis and NYPD stop and frisk policy, 40, Criminal Justice Review, 209-229, doi:10.1177/0734016814564989, (2014)

[3] Van Patten v State, 16 Ark. App. 83, 697 S.W.2d 919 (1983)

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