Unreasonable searches and seizures are barred by US and Pennsylvania Constitutional law. In general, police officers have to get a warrant before conducting a search of an individual or their property (homes, cars, etc.). However, there are multiple exceptions to this warrant requirement law. In fact, there are so many exceptions that the warrant requirement is practically a farce. Some of the most common exceptions include the search incident to arrest exception or the consent to search exception.

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Related: Search & Seizure of Drugs or Guns in Pennsylvania Criminal Cases – Exceptions to the Warrant Requirement

But what about when a police officer stops someone on the street? For example, a Philadelphia resident is walking to his friend’s home in West Philadelphia. Can an officer stop the individual and start asking questions about where they are going or what they have in their pockets? These types of stops are known as a stop and frisk.


In Philadelphia, police officers frequently stop and frisk individuals, which is allowed so long as an officer has reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is afoot. This has been the law since the late 1960s, after the US Supreme Court case, Terry v. Ohio.  Under the Terry case, a police officer is legally allowed to stop a person briefly without a warrant or probable cause, if the officer has a reasonable suspicion that the individual being stopped has engaged or is about to engage in criminal activity.

The stop and frisk doctrine isn’t necessarily an exception to the warrant requirement. It simply allows an officer to conduct limited pat down searches when an officer has a reasonable belief that the person being stopped is armed or dangerous. This applies to all stops by an officer in Pennsylvania, whether it’s for questioning a suspect or a witness.

In many instances, drugs, guns and other illegal contraband are discovered in an individual’s pockets. Criminal charges often result, such as PWID (Possession with Intent to Deliver) charges or a VUFA (Violation of the Uniform Firearms Act) charge.

The problem is that these types of stops, also known as “Terry” stops, disproportionately affect the African American community of Philadelphia. In fact, according to the PA ACLU, African Americans accounted for nearly 70% of stops from January to June 2018 when they only account for less than half of the population.

Get more info about the stop and frisk doctrine in Philadelphia criminal cases or contact our Philadelphia criminal law firm to discuss your criminal case. We offer FREE CONSULTATIONS. (215) 564-0644