In most cases, law enforcement officers are required to obtain a warrant before searching a person or their property. In order to obtain a search warrant, the officer must present sufficient probable cause to a judge. The officer also must name the specific location to be searched and the item or items to be searched for.
There are exceptions to this rule, however, and in certain circumstances, a police officer may stop and search an individual without obtaining a search warrant. Such a search is often called a “stop and frisk.”
Before an officer may stop you on the street, he or she must have a justifiable reason to suspect that you have committed or are about to commit a crime. This reason must be more than a hunch; in legal terms, it must satisfy the standard of reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion is defined as a set of facts or circumstances that would raise suspicion in the mind of an objectively reasonable law enforcement officer.
Reasonable suspicion gives an officer the authority to briefly detain you and ask you questions. Further, if the circumstances raise reasonable suspicion that you might be armed, the officer is also authorized to conduct a pat-down of your person to check for weapons. If a weapon is found, the officer may have sufficient probable cause to initiate an arrest.
It is important to understand that reasonable suspicion must exist before the stop and frisk is conducted. Any contraband or evidence of criminal misconduct found as a result of an unlawful search may be ruled as inadmissible by a judge.