May 5, 2022 By Paul Wallin

If The Police Violated Your Legal Rights When Searching Your Person Or Your Car You Could Get The Charges Dropped

The California Court of Appeals reviewed the issue of whether a defendant wearing baggy clothing and having a history of weapons possession was not sufficient evidence to reasonably suspect that he was armed and dangerous during a traffic stop. 

In 2020, Juan Pantoja was pulled over by a police officer because his license plate light and one brake light were out. Pantoja was then arrested when the officer found a handgun in Pantoja’s waistband. At trial, the officer testified that he recognized Pantoja from a prior arrest and was aware of his history of violence and firearm possession. However, it had been years since Pantoja had been arrested. The officer also testified that there was no smell of marijuana or contraband in sight. Pantoja was not on parole or probation and was not intoxicated. The officer asked to search Pantoja’s car and Pantoja declined. After the officer was told that Pantoja did not consent to a search of his vehicle the officer asked Pantoja to step out of the vehicle, which Pantoja did without complaint. Pantoja did not make any sudden gestures or movements but the officer testified that there was a good possibility or chance that he felt in danger because of the baggy clothing Pantoja was wearing and the traffic stop was in a high crime area. 

Pantoja filed a motion to suppress, which occurs when the defendant asks the court to exclude evidence obtained in an illegal way. Pantoja claimed that there were no “reasonable facts” to support the officer’s belief that Pantoja was armed or dangerous and that the officer had no reason to conduct a pat-down search. The trial court agreed with Pantoja and granted the motion to suppress and stated that in order to conduct a pat search, there must be specific and articulable facts known to that officer that would lead that officer to believe that he was presently armed or dangerous. When the officer was asked if he believed Pantoja was dangerous, he responded “there was a good chance.” The court found this answer to be speculative and therefore, didn’t provide any reasonable facts to believe that Pantoja was actually armed or dangerous. The district attorney appealed the trial court’s decision. 

On appeal, the court focused on the officer’s testimony of why he conducted the search and found that “the sole justification of the search is the protection of the police officer and others nearby, and it must therefore be reasonably designed to discover guns, knives, clubs, or other hidden instruments for the assault of the police officer.” The time and location of the encounter are not enough, for the purposes of a search, for the officer to believe he is in danger. The court also found that a defendant’s prior criminal history or the fact they are wearing baggy clothing, as long as it is appropriate to the weather, is not enough to justify a reasonable suspicion that an officer may be in danger. For the reasons above, the court of appeals agreed with the trial court and dismissed Pantoja’s charges. 

Contact an Experienced Wallin & Klarich Lawyer Today 

There are many cases where a defendant’s constitutional rights are violated during routine traffic stops. If you hire an experienced criminal lawyer to file a motion to suppress the evidence against you this could lead to your case being dismissed If you or a loved one get pulled over for a routine traffic stop and find yourself subject to a pat-down search it is important to find a criminal defense lawyer who can protect you and your legal rights. The criminal defense attorneys at Wallin & Klarich have been defending the rights of those who fall victim to illegal searches for more than 40 years. We know the law and know how to aggressively cross-examine the officers who will testify about the circumstances surrounding the stop of your vehicle and their subsequent actions.

With offices in Orange County, Riverside, San Bernardino, Victorville, West Covina, Torrance, Los Angeles, and San Diego, there is an experienced Wallin & Klarich criminal defense lawyer available near you who will fight hard to help you obtain the best result possible in your case.  We will be there when you call…

Please contact us at (877) 4-NO-JAIL or (714)587-4068 for a free phone consultation. We will be there when you call.

AUTHOR: Paul Wallin

Paul Wallin is one of the most highly respected attorneys in Southern California. His vast experience, zealous advocacy for his clients and extensive knowledge of many areas of the law make Mr. Wallin a premiere Southern California attorney. Mr. Wallin founded Wallin & Klarich in 1981. As the senior partner of Wallin & Klarich, Mr. Wallin has been successfully representing clients for more than 30 years. Clients come to him for help in matters involving assault and battery, drug crimes, juvenile crimes, theft, manslaughter, sex offenses, murder, violent crimes, misdemeanors and felonies. Mr. Wallin also helps clients with family law matters such as divorce and child custody.

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