Unit 2. Project Police Encounters with Suspects and Evidence Case Study:
Officer Smith is on routine night time patrol when he notices the vehicle in front of him appears to have a broken taillight which appears to be covered with colored tape. He directs the driver to pull the car to the side of the road. The car is an older model gold Pontiac and as Officer Smith walks to the driver-side of the vehicle, he remembers that a car fitting this general description was the suspected car in a recent road side killing of a fellow police officer.
Wanting to make sure that he is safe, he asks the female driver to step out of her vehicle for a brief pat-down for weapons. He pats her down and finding no weapons, Officer Smith asks the driver to have a seat back inside her vehicle. He then asks her for her driver’s license and registration. Instead of providing her driver’s license and registration, the driver speeds away resulting in a high speed chase. The chase ends when the fleeing car hits a telephone pole and crashes.
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Concerned that the car may ignite in flames from a leaking gas tank, Officer Smith removes the unconscious woman to a safe distance from the vehicle. He returns to the vehicle to locate her purse for identification. As he enters the vehicle, he notices the glove compartment has popped open and that underneath some documents is a gun which he retrieves. He also retrieves the driver’s purse from the floor on the passenger side of the vehicle. He opens the purse to get the woman’s identification and finds what appears to be a baggie of marijuana.
It is later determined that this vehicle was not the car involved in the shooting death of the fellow officer. It is also later determined that the taillight was not broken. Did Officer Smith have reasonable suspicion to make the initial stop of this vehicle? Was the “pat-down” of the driver legal? Did exigent circumstances exist for Officer Smith to give chase to this vehicle? Was the gun in “plain view” and legally obtained? Will the marijuana baggie be admissible evidence?
Officer Smith did have reasonable suspicion to make the initial stop of this vehicle based on the assumption that the taillight was broken and that constituted a traffic violation. As stated by Roberson, A detention requires at least reasonable suspicion. (Note: Reasonable suspicion is less than probable cause. The officer must have reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is occurring, is about to occur, or has recently occurred and that the vehicle or a person in the vehicle is connected with that criminal activity. The reasonable suspicion must be based on specific facts that can be articulated to a court. If the suspicion relates to any person in the vehicle (including a passenger), the officer may stop the vehicle. (Roberson, 2007) In the case study, the officer stopped the vehicle based on the suspicion that the taillight was broken but remembered that a vehicle fitting the description of the one he detained had been involved in a roadside killing of a police officer. This now made the reasoning behind the initial stop even stronger.
Officer Smith needed to know if this person was involved with the murder of a fellow officer. Therefore, it became necessary to pat-down the driver to make sure she had no weapons on her person. As stated in the case of Terry v. Ohio, Where a reasonably prudent officer is warranted in the circumstances of a given case in believing that his safety or that of others is endangered, he may make a reasonable search for weapons of the person believed by him to be armed and dangerous [392 U. S. , 3 or this link] regardless of whether he has probable cause to arrest that individual for crime or the absolute certainty that the individual is armed. ” (Terry v. Ohio, 1968) This “pat-down” was legal on the grounds that the officer kept it short and asked her to return to her vehicle as soon as the pat-down concluded. Exigent circumstance(s) is defined as follows, “Events that justify a departure from usual legal procedures such as the obtaining of a warrant, typically in order to save a life, preserve evidence, or prevent a suspect from fleeing. (Exigent Circumstances, n. d. ) Officer Smith was correct in giving chase to the vehicle when the driver decided to flee the scene. She refused to show her identification and that fact is sure to have heightened Officer Smith’s suspicions. If she had nothing to hide, why did she speed off? During the high speed chase, many lives were put in danger including the officer’s and this was grounds for arrest for attempting to elude an officer. Upon collision, the officer proceeded to remove the driver from the vehicle in case the gas tank would explode.
Since the driver had not been released when she sped off, the officer went into the vehicle to obtain some form of identification. He happened to stumble upon a gun in the glove compartment. Although it was under some documents, the officer saw it and retrieved it to protect himself from harm and to prevent a future crime from happening. Legally, the officer had the right to search the vehicle and according to the fourth amendment reasonableness requirement, Automobiles may be stopped if an officer possesses a reasonable and articulable suspicion that the motorist has violated a traffic law.
Once the vehicle has pulled to the side of the road, the Fourth Amendment permits the officer to search the vehicle’s interior, including the glove compartment. (Search and Seizure, n. d. ) Therefore, the gun was legally obtained because the officer was not violating the fourth amendment and was still under the impression that the vehicle or the person in the vehicle had allegedly been involved in a horrific crime. Upon finding the weapon, he proceeded to look in the driver’s purse for proper documentation and stumbled upon a baggie of marijuana.
Under the Fourth Amendment checking the driver’s purse was not a violation because, Under the automobile exception, states may allow the warrantless search of an automobile, except for the trunk, if the police officer reasonably believes that the vehicle holds evidence of a crime. The U. S. Supreme Court has determined that this exception is not a violation of the Fourth Amendment because drivers have a “reduced expectation of privacy” and because a vehicle is inherently mobile.
This reduced expectation of privacy also allows police officers with probable cause to search a car to inspect drivers’ and passengers’ belongings that are capable of concealing the object of the search, even if there is no proof that the driver and passenger were engaged in a common enterprise. (Automobile Exception, n. d. ) The baggie will be admissible in court because the officer found it upon searching through the driver’s purse and at that time she was going to be arrested for fleeing from the scene of a traffic stop.
In conclusion, the officer’s actions were legal because he acted upon the reasonable suspicion that the vehicle had committed a traffic violation and had been involved in the roadside killing of a fellow officer. Thus Officer Smith’s actions did not violate the driver’s fourth amendment rights. References Automobile Exception. (n. d. ). Retrieved 06 17 2011, from http://law. jrank. org/pages/5874/Criminal-Procedure-Automobile-Exception-Warrant-Requirement. html Stuckey, G. , Roberson, C. , ; Wallace, H. (2006).
Procedures in the justice system (8th Ed. ). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall. Terry v. Ohio (1968. ). Retrieved 06 17 2011 from http://caselaw. lp. findlaw. com/cgi-bin/getcase. pl? navby=case;court=us;vol=392;invol=1 Search and Seizure (n. d. ). Retrieved 06 17 2011 from http://criminal. findlaw. com/crimes/criminal_rights/your-rights-search-and-seizure/fourth-amendment-reasonableness-requirement. html Exigent Circumstances. (n. d. ) Retrieved 06 18 2011 from http://law. yourdictionary. com/exigent-circumstances