Pittsburgh Legal Back Talk

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Criminal Law: Keeping Guns Off the Street — Guest Post by Philadelphia Lawyer and Blogger Brad V. Shuttleworth

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | December 5, 2008

Posted by Cliff Tuttle

The recent enactment of Pittsburgh City Council of an ordinance requiring gun owners to report stolen guns promptly or face a fine has kindled a robust discussion on the local radio talk circuit. While driving to the courthouse yesterday, I heard two successive callers arguing that such a measure is ineffective to curb gun crime. Instead, both callers advocated that Pittsburgh adopt the aggressive policy implemented in Philadelphia of frisking likely carriers of handguns on the street.

I hadn’t heard of Philadelphia adopting such a proposal. I searched for news items on the web without success. So, in frustration, I asked Philadelphia criminal defense lawyer Brad V. Shuttleworth to enlighten me. You can check out Brad’s latest post on his Philadelphia Criminal Justice Blog at any time you are reading PLBT by clicking the link in the right hand sidebar. Or, if you prefer, click the link at the end of this post.

Brad’s response:

What I believe the caller was talking about is the Stop and Frisk Program, as proposed by the current Mayor, Michael Nutter during his mayoral campaign.

Keep in mind that the tactic of “stop and frisk” is nothing new in the criminal law arena. It was first recognized by the United States Supreme Court in the famous case of Terry v. Ohio in 1968 in construing the protections afforded by the search and seizure provisions of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. In order to stop a person, a law enforcement officer needs reasonable suspicion to believe that criminal activity is afoot. Then, to frisk a person while they are already stopped, a law enforcement officer must articulate facts, both subjective and objective, that demonstrates that he thought the suspect was possibly armed with a weapon during the stop.

The proposed Stop and Frisk Program, was, for the most part, a political response to the high homicide rate in Philadelphia over the past few years, with more than a homicide a day. It proposed emergency zones in the city, areas with very high levels of violent crime. In those emergency zones, it was proposed that police could stop and frisk people in those high-crime neighborhoods without articulable reasonable suspicion.

The fact is that such aggressive stop and frisk methods are unconstitutional, both under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, and under Article 1, Section 8 of the Pennsylvania Constitution. As far as I know, the proposed Stop and Frisk Program has not been implemented because of the serious constitutional concerns. Indeed, random weapons searches of individuals is unconstitutional because there is no basis for the stop and frisk, which requires reasonable suspicion at a minimum.
For additional posts by Brad V. Shuttleworth, Esq. click here.


CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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