People v. Brown (2021): Police Search of Pockets without Probable Cause Unconstitutional
In the recent case of People v. Brown, the California Court of Appeals explored the issue of whether the well-established “stop and frisk” search upheld by the Supreme Court in Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), for the purpose of officer safety could extend to searching a suspect’s pockets where no evidence of weapons or contraband was readily apparent.
In Brown, Mr. Brown was seen by the police standing next to a vehicle at a motel that was a known hangout for drug sales. His friend, who was also present, had been reported to police for suspicion of public urination (P.C. section 370). Based solely on this information, the police detained Mr. Brown, performed a protective pat-down, and searched his pockets. Subsequently, contraband was discovered inside Mr. Brown’s pocket. He was arrested, charged with possession of narcotics, and convicted.
Mr. Brown’s Fourth Amendment Right
Mr. Brown appealed, arguing that police violated his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure. He argued that three points:
(1) the police had no reasonable suspicion to detain him;
(2) there was no justification for patting down his outer clothing; and
(3) the search of his pockets was not based on probable cause.
The court addressed the first two arguments applying the analysis from Terry that permits a police officer to detain an individual if the officer has an articulable suspicion that the individual is participating in illegal activity. Here, the court found the officers had reasonable suspicion to briefly detain Mr. Brown on the basis of the circumstances taken together that he was standing near a parked vehicle in an area known for drug sales and that there had been a report his friend had urinated in public. However, the court made clear the detention must be brief as Terry does not authorize extended detention.
Second, Brown argued that the officers had no basis to pat down his outer clothing as this constituted an unreasonable search. The Court of Appeals found that the pat-down for the purpose of officer protection was reasonable under the Fourth Amendment in light of Terry’s holding that officers may perform a protective pat-down for the sole purpose of searching for weapons.
Third, since the officers did not feel anything resembling a weapon when they patted down Mr. Brown, their search should have stopped there if they were not able to get consent to search further. The court held that even though the pat-down is for the sole purpose of detecting weapons, officers may develop probable cause to search further if they detect something they know to be contraband such as drug paraphernalia, stolen property, etc. Since the pat-down of Mr. Brown showed no readily apparent evidence of contraband, the police were not justified in searching his pockets as this goes beyond the scope of the protective frisk described in Terry. Based on this, the court ordered that the contraband found in Mr. Brown’s pocket be suppressed. It is highly likely that with the evidence no longer being able to be used in court against Mr. Brown the charges against him will likely be dismissed.
Contact An Experienced Wallin & Klarich Criminal Defense Lawyer Today
Wallin and Klarich can help if you have been illegally searched or detained by the police in violation of your Fourth Amendment rights by fighting to have the illegally obtained evidence suppressed against you. In many of our cases once we are able to have the evidence suppressed the charges against our clients are dismissed. Our office has over 40 years of experience fighting for our client’s rights. We can do the same for you or a loved one facing criminal charges.
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 can aggressively defend you from criminal charges and do all we can to keep you free of custody.
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