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4th Amendment upheld in stop-and-frisk court ruling

A controversial stop-and-frisk policy has been called unconstitutional in federal court, perhaps answering the question of whether claims of reduced crime justify ignoring the public's right against unreasonable search and seizure by police. Though this ruling applies to New York City's police policies, it could have a nationwide impact as local governments seek to balance public safety with criminal defense legal protections.

That amendment's "unreasonable search and seizure" clause has long been interpreted to mean that police officers must have a reasonable suspicion that a person on the street is committing or has just committed a crime in order to stop and frisk them. However, in recent years New York police frequently have detained and searched people without any prior evidence of a crime.

City officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg and police Commissioner Ray Kelly, say the random police stops have reduced crime. But critics say the practice violates the Constitution. Some observers also say that the policy is an excuse for officers to commit racial profiling against African-American and Hispanic residents. Authorities said that more racial minorities are targeted for stops more often because more crime happens in neighborhoods with large communities of color.

A federal court challenge to the random stop-and-frisk policy resulted in a ruling criticizing the practice on Aug. 12. The judge said the policy was being used to discriminate against racial minorities and does not justify the Fourth Amendment violations. She said she will follow up with possible remedies, including a trial program where police wear body cameras and "community-based joint remedial process."

In a press conference shortly after the ruling, Bloomberg sharply criticized the judge's decision. He said that evidence-free stop-and-frisks have been effective in reducing crime. He also denied that the NYPD targets people based on skin color. The city plans to appeal.

In the ruling, the judge acknowledged that the program might reduce crime. But she noted that several unconstitutional practices, such as coerced confessions, have been similarly justified in the past.

Source: ABC News, "Judge Rules NYC's 'Stop-And-Frisk' Unconstitutional, City to Appeal," Josh Margolin and Aaron Katersky, Aug. 12, 2013

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