Frisk means the quick pat-down search of a suspect's clothing to detect whether they are concealing a weapon or other dangerous contraband. The purpose is to ensure the safety of the police and others in the vicinity of the scene, not to collect evidence for trial.
The decision to conduct such a pat-down search requires two elements:
- A reasonable suspicion that the person is armed and dangerous.
- The police are in the presence of the person being searched and would put them in danger if the person were armed, which is often used as the words of art “stop and frisk”.
The difference between a frisk and a search is that the purpose of a frisk is limited to finding weapons hidden on the suspect to ensure the personal safety of police officers, its scope is limited to weapons and not for the discovery of other evidence; a search generally requires a search warrant, and its purpose is mainly to find evidence of illegal criminal activity.
[Last updated in February of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]