Before the police can conduct a pat frisk, there must first be a lawful investigative stop. Police are allowed to temporarily detain a person or stop a car when there is reasonable suspicion that a crime has been or is being committed. The standard is less than the probable cause required for an arrest but more than a mere whim or idle curiosity. The Fourth Amendment prohibits any unreasonable search and seizure. If the investigative stop is determined by a judge to be unlawful, any evidence seized by the police as a result of a pat frisk is inadmissible in court
What if the investigative stop by the police was lawful, can they still conduct a pat frisk? Yes, but only under limited circumstances. The police must have a reasonable suspicion that a person is armed and dangerous. If there is a reasonable suspicion that a person may be armed and dangerous, police may conduct a pat-down of a person’s outer clothing to discover any weapons that may be used to assault the officer or any person standing nearby. The reason behind the pat frisk law is to allow the officer to continue the investigation without fear of physical harm.
What factors would justify an officer in conducting a protective weapons search? A suspect’s appearance and actions are important factors. For example, a bulge in a coat pocket in the shape of a gun or evasive conduct by the suspect could justify a pat frisk. The officer’s knowledge of the suspect’s criminal history is also a factor such as a prior conviction for a violent crime. The neighborhood and time of day of the investigative stop may also be factors. The type of crime for which a suspect is stopped may lead an officer to believe that a person is armed and dangerous. Crimes such as robbery, burglary, rape, and high volume drug trafficking crimes often justify a protective weapons search by police.
A pat search for weapons must be limited to the outer area of a person’s clothing. The scope of the search is limited to an attempt to discover guns, clubs, knives or any hidden item that could pose a threat to officer safety. If the officer detects an object thought to be a weapon, he would be justified in reaching into the suspect’s clothing or a pocket to remove the item.
What if the officer exceeds the lawful scope of a pat frisk and removes contraband? The search and seizure would be deemed unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment and the evidence inadmissible in court. If you have been a victim of an illegal pat frisk by the police, call Minneapolis criminal defense attorney Robert J. Shane now for a free phone consultation at (612) 339-1024.