When can police conduct a pat-down search of your person? Let’s assume you were driving your car on a Saturday night in downtown Minneapolis and just made wide turn with a squad car trailing directly behind you. You happen to be carrying a hard cigarette pack containing a small baggie of crystal methamphetamine in your right front pocket. You also have a baggie of meth falling out of your jacket pocket located on your front passenger seat. You slow your car to a complete stop and pull over to the side of the road in response to the flashing lights of the squad car. At the same time, you lean over the front seat and shove the baggie back inside your jacket pocket. The officer notices your lean and the term “furtive movement” immediately comes into his mind.
You are ordered out of your car, but appear very nervous and fail to maintain eye contact. You are sweating and respond to the officer’s questions with one-word answers. The officer decides to pat you down. During the pat search, he feels the hard cigarette pack in your right front pocket but is unsure of its identity. The officer concludes the object may contain a weapon. The officer removes the pack from your pocket and opens it suspecting there may be a weapon inside. Officers are trained that cigarette packs my contain small weapons.The baggie of crystal meth is discovered and a subsequent search of your car reveals the larger baggie of meth in your jacket pocket. You are now facing a charge of First Degree Controlled Substance Crime carrying a presumptive sentence of 86 months in prison for a first time offense.
Was the pat-frisk in this case legal? Yes, as long as the officer had a reasonable suspicion based on facts he can identify to a judge that you may be armed and dangerous. What were the facts in this hypothetical case that would justify the officer’s reasonable suspicion? The officer’s observation of the “furtive movement” when you leaned over the front passenger seat is a factor that weighs in favor of a pat-frisk for weapons as you could be concealing a weapon. Under Minnesota law, nervousness alone is not enough to justify a pat-frisk for weapons but when combined with other factors, such as “furtive movements,” the officer will have sufficient reasonable suspicion that you may be armed and dangerous to conduct the pat-frisk.
If you have been charged with a crime as a result of a pat-frisk for weapons, please give me a call at (612) 339-1024 for a free phone consultation.