Can Police Stop Someone For Reasonable Suspicion In New York?

You have legal rights that the police must respect, and one of those rights is not to be detained without reason or for an unreasonable reason. If a police officer initiates a pedestrian or motor vehicle stop, they must have reasonable suspicion, sometimes called reasonable articulable suspicion. What makes a suspicion reasonable instead of unreasonable? How does reasonable articulable suspicion differ from probable cause? Understanding the answers to these questions may help you identify when a police officer has unlawfully stopped you. If you have additional questions about your legal rights regarding a police stop in New York, or would like to discuss the specifics of your case, call The Law Office of Benjamin Greenwald at (845) 567-4820 to schedule a consultation with one of our experienced criminal defense attorneys. 

What Is Reasonable Suspicion?

The New York City Patrol Guide defines reasonable suspicion as being a specific and objective basis for the officer to suspect a particular individual of criminal activity. This means the officer must have clear and articulable facts warranting the governmental intrusion. Reasonable suspicion is not vague suspicion or a “hunch.”

There is often a question regarding whether this violates an individual’s Fourth Amendment right to be protected against unreasonable searches and seizures. However, the United States Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) cites the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Terry v. Ohio to explain why this does not violate that right. While the Fourth Amendment does call for probable cause as a requirement to search, Terry v. Ohio and the Supreme Court’s decision created a narrow exception that indicates that reasonable suspicion, or reasonable cause, is the appropriate constitutional standard allowing officers to stop and frisk individuals. 

How Is Reasonable Suspicion Different From Probable Cause?

The definitions of reasonable suspicion and probable cause are very similar and this can make it difficult to distinguish between the two. Reasonable suspicion is the easiest burden to establish legally, requiring less information and allowing law enforcement to stop and talk with an individual. This also creates the potential to frisk the stopped individual, if the police officer deems it necessary. The officer cannot engage in a more thorough search of the individual, their vehicle or home, or request a search warrant based on reasonable suspicion. 

Probable cause is the existence of facts and circumstances known to the officer that would allow a sensible man to think that a specific suspect was committing or has committed a criminal offense or that they have evidence of an offense. Probable cause is also required for police to arrest the individual, search the individual or their vehicle, or request a warrant to search their home or other tangible property. 

You have legal rights that the police must respect, and one of those rights is not to be detained without reason or for an unreasonable reason. If a police officer initiates a pedestrian or motor vehicle stop, they must have reasonable suspicion

Police Authority and Street Encounters

There are several types of encounters a police officer can initiate with individuals. Each of these police interactions has a different standard determining when the officer can initiate that encounter. Understanding these police stops, and which one is being initiated, can assist individuals in determining whether their rights have been violated. The New York City Civilian Complaint Review Board has outlined these encounters for the New York Police Department. The Law Office of Benjamin Greenwald may be able to assist you if you were unlawfully detained in one of these encounters. 

Request for Information 

This stop is the least intrusive and requires the least burden legally. This is a general, non-threatening approach for a reason the officer can articulate. The reason does not have to be suspicion of a crime. For example, an officer may approach someone to ask if they witnessed a crime that took place in the area recently or to see if they require assistance, such as a mother struggling with a stroller. While the officer must have a reason to approach the individual, reasonable suspicion is not required because the reason does not have to be related to a crime. Individuals are free to leave at any time. They are not required to answer any questions and cannot be arrested for refusing to answer questions or leaving. 

Common-Law Inquiry 

A common-law inquiry is more accusatory in nature, with the questions extended and focused on possible criminal activity. A common-law inquiry may have started as a request for information and then the officer is given founded suspicion because the individual provides false information. In other cases, the officer may stop the individual specifically for a common-law inquiry. The officer must have a founded suspicion that there is criminal activity occurring, so reasonable suspicion may or may not be required. Individuals are free to leave at any time. The officer may request permission to search, but if consent is not given, they cannot move forward or ask for a search warrant.


A stop, sometimes referred to as a Terry stop, occurs when the officer temporarily detains the individual. The officer may use reasonable force to detain the individual. To do so, the officer must have reasonable suspicion that the individual they are detaining is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a crime. While the individual is not under arrest, they are not free to leave either. If this is a motor vehicle stop, the officer must suspect someone in the vehicle of a crime or have probable cause to think the driver violated one or more traffic laws. This type of encounter is a brief investigation to see if there is probable cause for arrest and can include a search if the officer asks for and receives consent to do so. 


A frisk is an extension of a stop. During the stop, if the officer reasonably believes that the individual they have stopped may have a weapon, the officer can pat them down or frisk their outer clothing. During this frisk, if they feel an object that they reasonably believe could be a weapon, they are allowed to reach inside the clothing and grasp the object to determine if it is a weapon. Because this is an extension of a stop and the officer must reasonably believe the individual may have a weapon, reasonable suspicion is required. To reach inside the clothing and grasp the potential weapon requires probable cause. The officer may only frisk for a weapon. They cannot frisk to discover evidence or items used to commit a crime. 


This is the most intrusive of the encounters and occurs when the officer puts their hands in pockets or inside clothing. A search may also include entering or looking into a car or closed compartments such as glove boxes or trunks, looking in a bag or other container, entering a home, or examining data in a cell phone, computer or other data storage device. A search requires the officer to have probable cause. Most searches also require either the individual’s consent or a search warrant. 

Can Police Stop Someone for Reasonable Suspicion in New York?

In general, police can stop someone for reasonable suspicion in New York. Section 140.50 of New York Criminal Procedure Law (CPL) authorizes police officers to stop individuals in a public place when the officer reasonably suspects the individual is, has, or is about to commit a felony or misdemeanor. The officer can then frisk the suspect if the officer reasonably suspects they are in danger of physical injury. To go beyond stopping the individual and frisking them, the officer must have probable cause to arrest or search the individual. 

How Can a Criminal Defense Attorney Assist You If You Were Stopped Without Reasonable Suspicion?

While individuals may think of any encounter with a police officer as being stopped, it is important to distinguish between a request for information where the individual is free to leave and is not suspected of a crime, and an actual stop where the individual is not under arrest but also not free to leave. This distinction is important for proving rights were violated, a charge was unfounded, or evidence should be ignored. Fortunately, as a citizen, you do not have to untangle these complex and confusing definitions on your own. An experienced New York criminal defense attorney may be able to help you determine your next steps. The Law Office of Benjamin Greenwald can determine whether reasonable suspicion applies to your case. Call (845) 567-4820 to schedule a consultation and learn more about your legal rights and options.