Being Suspected of Robbery Doesn’t Give Cops Right To Pat You Down.

The First District of the California Appellate Court held in the case of In Re Jeremiah S. that the police can’t just pat you down (frisk you) because they suspect you of committing robbery. Jeremiah S. and a friend were stopped by two cops after the cops received a radio call that a woman had her purse and cell phone stolen. The radio call identified the suspects as young (20s) and African American wearing hoodies. Jeremiah S. and his friend were young, African American and wearing hoodies. There was no report that there was a weapon involved in the robbery.

At the hearing on Jeremiah S.’s motion to suppress, the cops admitted that they weren’t told that the suspects were armed. The cops were merely told young, African American and wearing hoodies. The cops didn’t have any specific, articulable facts that the stopped kids were armed. Just that they’re experience and training lead them to believe that most robberies involve a weapon. After stopping Jeremiah S. and his friend the cops patted them down and found the stolen phone but no weapons. The trial judge denied the motion to suppress the evidence and Jeremiah S. appealed.

A patdown, frisk or Terry search is a limited search of a suspect’s person for weapons. It was established as an exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment in Terry v. Ohio. There the US Supreme Court held that “if the officer conducting the so-called Terry stop believes the suspect is armed and dangerous, the officer may perform a limited search of a person's outer clothing for weapons, i.e., a patsearch, whether or not the officer has probable cause to arrest.” That search must be supported by a reasonable suspicion, supported by specific and articulable facts that the person has a weapon.

In Minnesota v. Dickerson the Supreme Court clarified, its purpose "is not to discover evidence of crime, but to allow the officer to pursue his [or her] investigation without fear of violence." The search must be strictly “limited to that which is necessary for the discovery of weapons which might be used to harm the officer or others nearby.”

In looking to support such a search the Court looks toward evidence such as baggy clothes, bulges, sudden movement and evasiveness. The Court said that in Jeremiah S.’s case other than Jeremiah S. being a suspect in a robbery there was no other evidence that he had a weapon. The Court discussed that robbery in California required either force or fear as an element, but that having a weapon was not required to rob someone. They discounted the cops statement that most robberies involved weapons.

The court held that they wouldn't establish a rule that merely being suspected of a robbery is sufficient to establish reasonable suspicion that would warrant a patdown search. There needs to be more, as the Supreme Court cases clearly establish. There needs to be specific articulable facts that this particular suspect has a weapon. There were none here.

If you, a friend or a loved one have a search and seizure issue you need a lawyer that knows that law and is not afraid to fight the prosecutors and defend your rights. Your case is important to me give me a call at 213-893-8640 to discuss a search and seizure issue or any criminal defense issue that concerns you. 

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