“Stop and Frisk” Laws Vary Considerably from State to State

by dave on May 3, 2010

in Criminal Justice

In what states do the police have a right to demand your identification and arrest you for obstruction if you fail to provide it? The answer to that question is far from clear. Despite serious questions about civil liberties and rights, so far, most stop and frisk laws have been upheld by the courts when used in narrow circumstances.

As this recent article in the Seattle Post Intelligencer points out, laws governing this issue are vague and highly varied from state to state.

When you are driving, you must produce identification if stopped. This is the exception. Driving is a privilege and you must have a license or permit. However, the laws are different when it comes to being stopped on the sidewalk, in the park, or walking to your car for instance.

Luckily, we don’t live in a country where you must carry identification with you at all times, not yet anyways. A recent law in Arizona, however, will likely have immigrants scrambling for documentation of their legitimate residency even when they run out to get their mail.

Aside from this, however, if a police officer asks you to identify yourself, in most cases you don’t have to. But, if the officer could document that he/she had probable cause to believe a crime had or was going to take place there’s a good chance you could be arrested for refusing to cooperate.

Not knowing what the specific laws are from state to state at any given time can be a frightening thing. With obstruction laws being so vague and open to police interpretation, they are often abused and have been shown to be disproportionately applied to minorities.

As one civil rights attorney in California is quoted as saying “I would fight those cases and I might consider suing as a result.”

The criminal justice system and the United States as a whole was founded on individual rights. When your constitutional rights are in question, police may have crossed a line.

If you are facing obstruction charges or you feel the criminal charges against you aren’t fair—we can help. We have attorneys across the country specializing in the criminal laws of their respective states who can talk to you and help you. Feel free to contact us for a consultation.


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