You could come into contact with the police under a wide variety of circumstances. You might find yourself the driver or passenger of a vehicle that is pulled over for a traffic stop or you might just be walking down the street and encounter a police officer. Regardless of how you find yourself face to face with a police officer, if it is something that has not happened before, you may be uncertain how to react, particularly if the officer wants to search you for drugs. A Murfreesboro drug lawyer at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby explains when and why the police can search your person for drugs or other contraband.
The 4th Amendment – Where It All Begins
In the United States, many of the rights we have can be found within the first ten Amendments to the U.C. Constitution, collectively known as the “Bill of Rights.” Your rights with regard to searches and seizures conducted by a law enforcement officer can be found in the 4th Amendment, which reads as follows:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
In general, the 4th Amendment stands for the proposition that the police cannot conduct a search and seizure without first obtaining a warrant based on probable cause. That basic principle, however, has been watered down over the years as the Supreme Court carved out exception after exception. Some of those exceptions may apply to a search of your person or drugs or other contraband.
If You Encounter a Police Officer Walking Down the Street
One of the most confusing areas of search and seizure law for the average person relates to your rights during a “casual” encounter. For example, if you are just walking down the street and a police officer asks you to stop, ultimately asking to search you, what are your rights? Can you refuse to stop? Can you refuse to answer questions? Can you refuse the request to search?
A police officer can approach you and talk to you for any reason, or no reason at all. In addition, most states do have laws that require you to provide identification to a law enforcement officer if asked under certain circumstances. Beyond that though, you are not obligated to speak to an officer. You are free to (politely) refuse to answer any further questions. The officer may attempt to continue the conversation; however, whether you answer or not is up to you.
You can also refuse a request to search your person. To justify a search at that point the officer must have a “reasonable suspicion” that criminal activity is afoot. Even then, the officer can only conduct what is referred to as a “stop and frisk.” A “stop and frisk” involves a pat down of the outer layer of clothing. The rationale behind the “stop and frisk” exception to the warrant requirement is based on the potential risk of harm to law enforcement officers. Therefore, an officer can only remove (or seize) something if it is clearly a danger to the officer, unless the officer feels an object that is obviously contraband. This is called the “plain feel” doctrine. To pass the plain feel test, the item must have an immediately apparent character or quality of being contraband or evidence. Examples of circumstances under which a frisk may be justified include:
- Concern for the safety of the officer or of others.
- Suspicion the suspect is armed and dangerous.
- Suspicion the suspect is about to commit a crime where a weapon is commonly used.
- Officer is alone and backup has not arrived.
- Number of suspects and their physical size.
- Behavior, emotional state, and/or look of suspects.
- Suspect gave evasive answers during the initial stop.
- Time of day and/or geographical surroundings (not sufficient by themselves to justify frisk).
If a law enforcement officer conducted a search of your person and found drugs or drug-related paraphernalia, it is possible that the search was conducted illegally. Consult with an experienced Tennessee criminal defense attorney right away to discuss the possibility.
Contact a Murfreesboro Drug Lawyer
If you have additional questions about your rights during a search and seizure in the State of Tennessee, it is in your best interest to consult with an experienced Murfreesboro drug lawyer immediately. Contact the team at Bennett, Michael & Hornsby today by calling 615-898-1560 to schedule your appointment.