Stop-and-frisk videos may be impetus for police retaliation

New York prosecutors are currently moving forward with a case against the renowned Jazz Hayden, a longtime Harlem activist who is now facing two felony weapons charges that could lead to up 14 years in prison. Many believe that Hayden's prosecution is anything but meritorious; rather, some believe that the prosecution is nothing more than a retaliatory action on the part of the New York Police Department.

Stop-and-frisk videos

The police stopped Hayden and searched his car in December 2011. After searching the car thoroughly, the police claim that they found a penknife and arrested Hayden on a felony weapons charge. Though Hayd en has a criminal record - he was labeled a street hustler who spent three years in prison during the 1950's for drug-related offenses - he is considered a most unlikely figure in the controversy over the police stop-and-frisk procedures. Hayden has spent the last four years videotaping police as they conduct stop-and-frisk procedures in Harlem, stringing them together in a program called "Copwatch." The videos are posted on the Internet, and it goes without saying that these videos have come to greatly irritate and annoy the police caught on camera.

Stop-and-frisk implications

The practice of police stopping and frisking people was deemed constitutional by the Supreme Court of the United States in Terry v. Ohio, and since then it has provided the police with a means for stopping and frisking suspects even though the police have no probable cause to conduct a search. Because the Court was persuaded that stop-and-frisks are less intrusive than a search and seizure, it held that police need only a reasonable suspicion that an illegal activity is taking place to justify a stop-and-frisk.

Many people voice concern about the ease with which police are able to justify conducting stop-and-frisks. Some believe that the use of stop-and-frisks is partially to blame for the glut of prisoners who have found their way into the prison system, which is now bloated with millions of prisoners, leaving the U.S. second only to Russia for its prison population. Furthermore, there are concerns that police have become increasingly emboldened by the relaxed requirements for investigation of potential crimes.

Police retaliation and the importance of a strong defense

Perhaps most concerning are allegations that people who question police use of the stop-and-frisk procedure are being prosecuted in retaliation. For example, some fear the possibility that Hayden's prosecution is retaliatory, and that the District Attorney's pursuit of the case is a response to Hayden's activism and taping of stop-and-frisk procedures. Only time will tell whether the District Attorney drops the case or initiates a grand jury investigation, and whether the charges against Hayden are frivolous or worthy of further prosecution.

Those who believe they are facing charges out of retaliation have several options available to them, from mounting an aggressive defense to filing a civil lawsuit against the city. A person who is accused may be able to challenge the admissibility of evidence that was obtained through an illegal search and seizure. A person who is charged with a crime is presumed innocent. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help those who have been wrongfully arrested fight the charges.