When can an officer legally stop and search you?

Most people have a general awareness that they have a constitutional protection against “unreasonable” searches and seizures by law enforcement officers – especially when they’re in their homes. However, things can get a little fuzzy when a person is out walking around or maybe just standing outside a business talking on the phone or with some friends.

Can an officer do what’s often referred to as a “stop and frisk” without your permission or a warrant? This has been considered a controversial law enforcement technique and one that some people have argued is used to target people of color. Laws around when a person can legally be compelled to stop, provide identification and/or submit to a search of their belongings and their person vary by state.

What does Alabama law say?

The practice widely known as “stop and frisk” is legal in Alabama. The law states that police can stop any person whom they have a reasonable suspicion is engaged in unlawful activity. Further, if an officer “reasonably suspects that he is in danger of life or limb, he may search such person for a dangerous weapon.”

The law goes on to say, “If such officer finds such a weapon or any other thing, the possession of which may constitute a crime, he may take and keep it until the completion of the questioning, at which time he shall either return it, if lawfully possessed, or arrest such person.” That “or any other thing” can include suspected drugs, stolen items or just about anything that could be evidence of a crime.

Of course, in the moment, it’s normal to be scared and maybe angry when being stopped and questioned by a law enforcement officer, even if you’ve nothing wrong. The important thing is not to give an officer any reason to fear for their own safety and to firmly, but calmly, assert your rights if you need to. While you are required to provide ID if asked, you don’t have to submit to questioning.

If you or a loved one has been arrested and charged with a crime, it’s important to seek legal guidance as soon as possible to protect your rights, both going forward and retroactively. That means, for example, if an officer didn’t conduct a legal stop or search, any evidence uncovered may be considered inadmissible. Don’t take on the justice system alone. The potential consequences are too serious.

Attorney Brad Hawley

Attorney Brad HawleyAttorney Brad Hawley possesses years of practical experience focused on bankruptcy, civil and criminal defense. He has prosecuted and defended clients in state court, and is a former enlisted member of the United States Army. Brad is driven by his desire to help people that have been hurt by the legal system, and is dedicated to fixing injustices he sees around him. [ Attorney Bio ]

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