On Wednesday, March 22, Nueva Upper School students attended a riveting, informative presentation by the Honorable Shira Scheindlin. Judge Scheindlin became one of the country’s most influential judges, in part for her landmark ruling against the constitutionality of the NYPD’s “stop-and-frisk” program. Most recently, she has led the creation of the American Immigrant Representation Project, an effort to provide pro bono counsel to immigrants placed in deportation proceedings.
Judge Scheindlin began her talk by sharing the trajectory of her career — from law school, to clerk for Federal Judge Charles L. Brieant, to private practice, to her eventual appointment to the federal court. Her story was engaging and informative, providing a window into the education, personal effort, and types of experiences that factor into attaining a federal appointment.
Students had the opportunity to hear about Judge Scheindlin’s landmark “stop and frisk” case as she traced it from its origins to its prevalence in the headlines today.
The 1968 Supreme Court decision Terry v. Ohio found that “stop-and-frisk” was not a violation of the Fourth Amendment if police officers had “reasonable suspicion.” Judge Scheindlin shared her opinion that the case was “a terrible decision because it did not establish clear guidelines for what is legal grounds for pulling someone over.”
She said that prior to her decision NYPD officers were making nearly 685,000 stops a year, mostly of minority people. Judge Scheindlin pointed out that traffic stops are often public, escalate and get out of control quickly, are disruptive, and can happen more than 10–12 times to people in their lives. Often the “reasonable suspicions” cited by police were “furtive movements,” people moving too fast or too slow, or simply stuttering. Ninety-five percent of people detained during the “stop and frisk” era were let go, and contraband was found during only 1.5% of the stops. But regardless of results, Judge Scheindlin said that her role was to focus on the constitutionality of the law.
After her decision, the stops declined to 25,000 and, despite the media and city leaders telling everyone that the city was going to explode with crime, there was actually no correlating uptick. She said she is proud to "have stopped a really bad practice, one that was bad for police and community relationships."
In addition to the ruling, federal judges are asked to write a paper outlining remedies. Judge Scheindlin’s 280-page final document included:
- Her being an early proponent of body cameras
- Rewrite/revise police guidelines specifying what is constitutional
- More training for police officers
- Call for an articulable definition of “reasonable suspicion”
- No use of “furtive movements” as justification for stops in a "high crime neighborhood"
- No more checklist for officers, but narrative rationale in police reports
- Monitoring of NYPD
Judge Scheindlin concluded her presentation with a snapshot of the immigration cases heard between 2007 and 2012. During that time, of the nearly 1.2 million cases heard, only 37% of immigrants had legal representation. She noted that on any given day 30–40 thousand people are held in detention and that those numbers are on the rise. Judge Scheindlin said that the conditions in many of these privately run prisons are terrible and people are sometimes held up to three or four years without a hearing.
Judge Scheindlin is actively working to find law firms and individuals to provide pro bono representation to these immigrants.
March 31, 2017