With an increasingly acrimonious election season coming to a close, the legality of “stop and frisk” searches by law enforcement has been widely discussed and debated by pundits on both sides of the aisle. Some view this practice as a reasonable way for law enforcement to cut down gang and other criminal activity, while others see it as an unconstitutional intrusion on civil rights, or in some cases, even institutionalized racism. One of Texas’s high courts recently took a side in this debate, upholding the legality of stop and frisk in certain situations.
What does the decision in Furr v. Texas mean for the legality of stop and frisk in Texas?
In this case, the Texas Criminal Court of Appeals analyzed whether a specific stop and frisk violated that party’s Fourth Amendment protections or whether the police officer had probable cause to conduct a weapons search, which ended up leading to the discovery of drug paraphernalia. in this case, the police received an anonymous tip that two individuals (later identified as Mr. Furr and a friend) were using drugs on a street corner in an area known for drug activity.
As a police officer came on the scene, Mr. Furr began walking away quickly and giving furtive glances over his shoulder. The officer followed Mr. Furr into a shelter and observed him acting in a very anxious manner and sweating profusely, so made the decision to perform a weapons check and discovered a crack pipe and syringes in his pocket. Mr. Furr challenged the admission of the drug evidence on constitutional grounds, arguing that the initial pat-down that led to this discovery was illegal.
Both the trial court and appellate court disagreed, holding that under the circumstances, the officer had a reasonable suspicion that Mr. Furr was either under the influence or in possession of illegal drugs. Although the actions that the officer observed (furtive glances, anxiety, sweating) were not necessarily suspicious in and of themselves, the combination of the anonymous tip and these relatively innocuous observations were deemed enough to make a weapons search appropriate.
What does this decision mean for stop and frisk in Texas?
While this decision didn’t make any sweeping immediate changes to the constitutionality of stop and frisk, it did expand the circumstances in which reasonable suspicion can be found. Relying on a single officer’s gauge of “suspicious” behavior, combined with an anonymous tip to establish probable cause, may make it more difficult to fight against Fourth Amendment violations.
If you feel you’ve been illegally or unfairly targeted for a stop and frisk — even if it didn’t result in your arrest — you may want to contact a civil rights or criminal defense attorney to learn more about your options. Attorneys who practice in these areas of law are highly familiar with Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, and should be able to help you craft an effective argument proving that your stop and frisk was unjustified.