Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Reasonable suspicion not established for patdown

US v. Powell: The Fourth Circuit vacated Powell’s conviction for simple possession of crack, holding that the government did not present a set of facts which sufficiently establish reasonable suspicion.

The Fourth Circuit, without hesitation, concluded that the government failed to establish that the officers in traffic stop here had reasonable suspicion that Powell was armed and dangerous when they began the patdown in question. First, the context of the stop provided no basis for the officers to reasonably suspect that Powell might have been armed and dangerous. In fact, he was eating at the time the traffic stop began, and he and one of the police officers discussed their mutual appreciation for fish sandwiches. The traffic stop, prior to Powell’s removal from the back seat was "remarkable" for its "amicable, cooperative, and relatively safe nature."

The government urged two factors weighed in support of their reasonable suspicion argument: 1) caution data, or a person’s possible involvement in prior criminal activity; and 2) Powell’s purported deliberate misrepresentation of his driver’s license. While a prior criminal record can be relevant in establishing reasonable suspicion, the Fourth Circuit explained, in most instances, standing alone it is not enough to create reasonable suspicion. The caution data here (a prior armed robbery) was the sole basis for the police officer’s pat down of Powell, and the Fourth Circuit found that it certainly did not justify a reasonable suspicion that Powell was armed and dangerous on the night in question. And, while a false statement can be considered in establishing reasonable suspicion, Powell’s purported misrepresentation, did not "remotely" tend to suggest that he was armed and dangerous.

In dissent, Justice King stated that he found an ample basis here for suspecting that Powell may have been armed and dangerous, and that the risk of dismissing a "common sense" suspicion that a suspect may be armed is "inherently perilous to arresting officers."

No comments: