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Know Your Rights: What’s the Difference Between a Frisk and Search?

Brian J Smith Dec. 12, 2013

When confronted by a police officer, whether while driving your car or walking on the street, it’s important to know what’s allowed and what your rights guarantee. For example, there are legal differences between a “search” and a “frisk” and knowing your rights could mean the difference between a conviction and a dropped charge.


Photo courtesy of Bruce Bortin

What is a Frisk?

In order to conduct a stop and frisk, a police officer must have Reasonable Suspicion (an objectively justifiable suspicion of illegal activity) to do so. During a frisk, an officer may give you a pat down do identify weapons or drugs. It is important to note that if they do not find these items, they may not legally detain you any longer.

What is a Search?

In order to conduct a search, a police officer must have Probable Cause. For example, if an officer finds weapons during a frisk, they would legally have probable cause to arrest you, and perform a search. Any illegal items found at this point may be used against you in court, as long as the probable cause is found to be valid during trial.

What to do if you are stopped, frisked or arrested

It is important to remain cooperative, as causing a scene may result in an incident to arrest, but do not give consent to a search without probable cause. If you are arrested, it is extremely important to remain silent until you can speak to a criminal defense attorney. Remember that even if you are arrested or items are found on you, they may not be admissible in court if the officer violated your constitutional rights during a frisk or search.

To learn more about your rights, or to find assistance after an arrest, contact Las Vegas criminal defense attorney Brian J. Smith at (702) 380-8248 today.