By Joseph Ax
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hundreds of thousands of people who have been stopped or frisked by New York police - but never convicted of any crime - can sue the police department for keeping their personal information in a database, a New York appeals court ruled on Thursday.
In 2010, New York's largest civil liberties group filed a class action lawsuit against the New York Police Department on behalf of two men stopped separately by police in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Each man received two summonses, which were later dismissed, but their personal information remained in a growing NYPD database.
The department has maintained personal information on so-called stop and frisk suspects since 2006 "for use in future criminal investigations," according to a 2009 letter Police Commissioner Ray Kelly sent to a city councilman. The letter was quoted in the court's ruling.
New York law calls for all criminal records to be sealed when a case ends in the defendant's favor, such as a dismissal. A related statute requires records to be sealed in cases where a defendant is convicted of a noncriminal offense, such as a disorderly conduct violation.
The law is intended to protect people who are not convicted from the stigma of criminal accusations, the court said. The NYCLU claims the police department database violates that law.
In a statement, city lawyer Celeste Koeleveld said the ruling was "procedural" and that the civil rights group's claims were "without substance."
NYPD stop and frisk cases have climbed steadily to more than 685,000 last year from nearly 161,000 in 2003. Only 12 percent of those stopped were arrested or ticketed. The policy is the subject of a broad-ranging federal lawsuit, which is set to go to trial in March 2013.
(Reporting by Joseph Ax; Editing by Jackie Frank)