Knowing your Rights in New York: Inquiry to Frisk

You are minding your own business walking down the street in Brooklyn or maybe you just walked out of J&R Music in downtown Manhattan. A police officer approaches you and starts to ask you questions. Do you have to answer? Can you walk away? Can he detain, frisk or search you? What if, a a result of this frisk, a gun, drugs, or counterfeit money is found on your person and you now face charges of Criminal Possession of a Weapon, Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance, or Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument? Simply put, what are your rights and at what point did the police violate them?

Although an experienced criminal defense attorney will need a detailed account of the events that occurred, there is a very helpful and general guide line to follow. As set forth by the Court of Appeals in People v. DeBour, there are four levels of police intrusion. Each of these levels requires a certain basis and level of knowledge to justify or permit the police conduct. These levels are as follows:

1) If a police officer approaches you on the street he can ask you for information. This request, however, must be limited in its scope. The officer must have an “objective and credible reason” that does not have to be based in criminality. Additionally, the questioning should not make you believe you are the target of an investigation. The officer can ask limited questions such as if you saw something that just occurred or heard some particular noise.

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