“Stop and Frisk” Ruled Unconstitutional in New York City: Attorney General Holder May Strike Down Current Sentencing Rules for Nonviolent and Lower Level Offenders
Wow. Monday’s turning out to be quite a day, and at this writing, it is not even noon yet.
A federal judge in Manhattan has ruled that New York police violated the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause when they disproportionately targeted minorities with stop-and-frisk tactics.
U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin issued a 195-page decision (PDF) today after a two-month bench trial, the New York Times reports. “A police department may not target a racially defined group for stops in general—that is, for stops based on suspicions of general criminal wrongdoing—simply because members of that group appear frequently in the police department’s suspect data,” she wrote.
Scheindlin also noted an unwritten policy for police to target “the right people” for stops. “This is a form of racial profiling,” she said. “While a person’s race may be important if it fits the description of a particular crime suspect, it is impermissible to subject all members of a racially defined group to heightened police enforcement because some members of that group are criminals. The equal protection clause does not permit race-based suspicion.”
According to Scheindlin’s opinion, 52 percent of the 4.4 million police stops were followed by a frisk for weapons. A weapon was found after 1.5 percent of those frisks.
In 52 percent of those 4.4 million stops, the person stopped was black, in 31 percent the person was Hispanic, and in 10 percent the person was white. Weapons were seized in 1 percent of the stops of blacks, 1.1 percent of the stops of Hispanics, and 1.4 percent of the stops of whites. Contraband other than weapons was seized in 1.8 percent of the stops of blacks, 1.7 percent of the stops of Hispanics, and 2.3 percent of the stops of whites.
At this writing, Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Kelly will issue statements this afternoon, Eastern Time. They are going to appeal, but they have been backtracking for a while since the judge has been deciding this case. In my opinion, all the plaintiffs would have to show that “stop and frisk” did not contribute to the low crime rate in New York. For one thing, the NYPD will no longer keep the names of citizens that they have stopped and frisked after the ACLU took them to court as well. From the New York ACLU page, dated five days ago, on August 7:
In settling a state lawsuit today filed by the New York Civil Liberties Union, the Bloomberg administration has agreed to end the NYPD’s practice of storing in an electronic database the names and addresses of people who are stopped by police officers, arrested or issued a summons, and subsequently cleared of criminal wrongdoing. The NYPD has been using the database for years to target New Yorkers for criminal investigations merely because they had been stopped.
The city also agreed to erase from the NYPD database within 90 days the names and addresses of all people who have been stopped, arrested or issued a summons and whose cases were either dismissed or resolved with a fine for a noncriminal violation.
“Though much still needs to be done, this settlement is an important step towards curbing the impact of abusive stop and frisk practices,” said Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the NYCLU and lead counsel in the case. “It was wrong and illegal for the police department to be keeping these names and addresses in the stop-and-frisk database, and this settlement puts an end to that practice.”
Bloomberg and Kelly probably saw the handwriting on the wall early on, despite the fact that they could go down in flames supporting this kind of thing. Especially when you got testimony like this below by New York’s Finest.
Judge Scheindlin also provided for someone to fix the constitutional violations, according to the New York Times:
To fix the constitutional violations, the judge designated an outside lawyer, Peter L. Zimroth, to monitor the Police Department’s compliance with the Constitution.
Judge Scheindlin also ordered a number of other remedies, including a pilot program in which officers in at least five precincts across the city will wear body-worn cameras in an effort to record street encounters. She also ordered a “joint remedial process” — in essence, a series of community meetings — to solicit public input on how to reform stop-and-frisk.
The decision to install Mr. Zimroth, a partner in the New York office of Arnold & Porter, LLP, and a former corporation counsel and prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, will leave the department under a degree of judicial control that is certain to shape the policing strategies under the next mayor.
I’ll bet. This isht has been patently humiliating for young brothers and Latinos who really weren’t doing anything except walking or driving or simply being black and Latino. I have read of young men being jacked up sixty—count them, 60—times by the so-called law. This ruling may have an effect on other stop and frisk programs in other states and in major cities, but it is too soon to tell. Every state is different. And Lawyer Zimroth had better get on the good foot and not leave any loopholes for the cops to continue doing what they are doing.
Meanwhile on the Justice watch, Attorney General Eric Holder may be on his way to decriminalizing nonviolent and lower level sentences for offenders. Will the jails swing wide for these men and women, especially those who were found with a little bit of weed on their persons and in their cars? Here are Holder’s comments from this morning.
The Justice Department will avoid charging certain low-level and nonviolent drug offenders with crimes that carry mandatory minimums, Attorney General Eric Holder will announce Monday. The policy shift will allow certain defendants — those without ties to large-scale organizations, gangs or cartels — to avoid what Holder called “draconian mandatory minimum sentences.”
Holder, in a speech before the American Bar Association in San Francisco on Monday, will also announce that the Justice Department is giving U.S. attorneys throughout the country a greater amount of prosecutorial discretion.
“Some issues are best handled at the state or local level,” Holder will say, according to prepared remarks provided by the Justice Department. “And that’s why I have directed the United States Attorney community to develop specific, locally-tailored guidelines — consistent with our national priorities — for determining when federal charges should be filed, and when they should not.”
The “Smart On Crime” plan that Holder is announcing intends to lower the overall federal prison population. As part of that measure, Holder will announce, elderly prisoners who committed no violent crimes and served a significant portion of their sentences may be eligible for early release.
Elderly prisoners? What will happen to them? I mean, many of these men and women are between 20 and 50 years old. But elderly prisoners? Most of them do not have Social Security. That’s something to think about.
Otherwise, I am glad that this is finally happening, but it may be too little too late for some, and not enough for others. We’ll see what develops from Holder’s confirming speech.
- ABOUT TIME! Judge Says NYPD Stop & Frisk Practice Violated Rights (DETAILS) (globalgrind.com)
- Judge Rules NYPD Stop-and-Frisk Unconstitutional (wnyc.org)
- Judge rules New York police’s ‘stop and frisk’ tactics unconstitutional – Reuters (reuters.com)
- Judge: New York’s Stop-and-Frisk is Unconstitutional (hispanicbusiness.com)
- Judge Rules NYPD Stop and Frisk Unconstitutional, Appoints Federal Monitor (alternet.org)