Philadelphia police will stop individuals when they have reasonable suspicion to believe that criminal activity is at hand, such as selling drugs.  However, many of these stops made by the police are illegal.  According to reports, about 140,000 people were stopped in 2016, and 35,000 people were stopped illegally.*

In order to stop someone, the police must have reasonable suspicion, which is when the police have sufficient knowledge that criminal activity is afoot.  If stopped, officers can question and frisk the individual.  The officers can only conduct a pat down and cannot reach into the individual’s pocket.  This is also known as a Terry stop.  During the stop, if the circumstances at the time give rise to probable cause that a crime was committed, then the police officer can conduct a search of the individual.

We will discuss a couple of examples of when the police illegally stopped an individual.

Example 1 – No Reasonable Suspicion

A police officer is driving through Philadelphia and sees a group of people hanging out in a street corner talking and being very rowdy.  The officer stops his car and approaches the group. As he approaches the group, people in the group start to walk away.  The officer stops one of the individuals and proceeds to pat him down. The officer feels a bulge similar to a gun, reaches into the individual’s pocket and removes a gun.  During the search, the officer finds several baggies of drugs with the gun.  The individual is then charged with possession.

In this case, the police officer did not have reasonable suspicion to stop the individual.  The officer stopped the individual based on the fact that he was hanging out at a corner with other people.  He saw no transactions, and it was not a corner that is known for drug dealing. Therefore, the individual was stopped illegally and any drugs and the gun recovered in the subsequent search of the person should be suppressed.

Example 2 – Illegal Retrieval of Evidence

Even if there is reasonable suspicion to stop someone which leads to probable cause to search the person, the evidence will be suppressed if the way the police officer retrieved the drugs is illegal.  For instance, if the police believe that an invasive search is necessary, i.e., the suspect must strip in order to conduct the search, the search must be done in a police or medical building after the person has been arrested.  Police officers cannot ask the suspect to undress in order to conduct a search in public places.  This is prohibited by state law.  In fact, a judge recently suppressed all evidence from a search in a drug case due to illegal retrieval of the drugs.**


If you were charged or know a family member and/or friend who was charged with drug charges, it is best to have an experienced Philadelphia criminal lawyer’s representation.  David S. Nenner, Esq. has handled countless drug cases and offers free consultations.  Call (215) 564-0644.