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Abstract

Terry v. Ohio changed everything. Before Terry, Fourth Amendment law was settled. The Fourth Amendment had long required that police officers have probable cause in order to conduct Fourth Amendment invasions; to administer a "reasonable" search and seizure, the state needed probable cause. But in 1968, the Warren Court, despite its liberal reputation, lowered the standard police officers had to meet to conduct a certain type of search: the so-called "'stop' and 'frisk.'" A "stop and frisk" occurs when a police officer, believing a suspect is armed and crime is afoot, stops the suspect, conducts an interrogation, and pats him down for weapons. In Terry, the Supreme Court detached reasonableness from probable cause for such "limited" searches and seizures; if a police officer's suspicions, based on articulable facts, lead her to believe that crime is afoot and that a perpetrator is armed, then under the Fourth Amendment, a search for weapons is constitutionally permissible. Despite reversing precedent, Terry and its Supreme Court progeny allowed police officers to rely upon their reasonable suspicions to conduct searches only under narrow conditions. Lower courts, however, have enlarged Terry beyond recognition. Indeed, police officers now have wide latitude to stop and frisk suspects. From the New York stop and frisk numbers flows the class-action Floyd v. City of New York. In Floyd, minority plaintiffs contend that the city's stop and frisk practices unconstitutionally infringe upon personal liberty. The Fourth Amendment as currently interpreted, however, permits cities like New York to promulgate stop and frisk practices that result in racial harassment. What constitutional tool, then, can compel local governments and police departments to revamp their discriminatory stop and frisk techniques? The answer must be the Equal Protection Clause.