Everyone has heard the term “illegal search and seizures.” But what does this mean? In general, the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution makes unlawful searches and seizures illegal, meaning that any evidence found during an unlawful search cannot be used against you in a court of law1. When it comes to “unlawful searches”, it is not always black and white. There are many exceptions in which a warrant would not be required for a search to be lawful. One example of this is what is known as a “pat-down” by Police Officers. A pat-down of your persons is technically a “search” within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment, but a police officer may not be able to always obtain a search warrant. In certain circumstances, a police officer may be able to perform a pat-down without it constituting an “unlawful search.” This, of course, has its limits. Those limits were recently explored in the Court of Appeals recent decision of Berry v. State2, which is the focus of this blog post.
In Berry, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed a trial court’s decision to allow evidence of drugs found on the Defendant after a Detective performed a weapon “pat-down.” The relevant facts are as follows: The Detective was forced to pull over his patrol vehicle after three individuals were blocking the road. The individuals appeared to be drinking, and the Detective existed his vehicle. As the Detective approached the Defendant and two other individuals, the Detective noticed a smell of marijuana. Furthermore, the Detective noticed a “bulge” in the Defendant’s waistband. The Detective then performed a weapons pat-down of the Defendant and found two bags containing marijuana. The Defendant did not have a weapon on him but was charged with drug possession. At trial, the Defendant argued that the evidence should be excluded because the pat-down constituted an illegal search. The trial court denied the Defendant’s request, finding that the pat-down was Constitutional. The Defendant appealed.
On appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with the trial court, finding the pat-down was Constitutional. The Court of Appeals pointed to the exception for pat-downs, stating that “[t]his narrowly drawn authority ‘permits a reasonable search for weapons for the protection of the police officer.” Furthermore, the Court noted that the officer “need not be absolutely certain that the individual is armed.” The Court found the Detective had reasonable suspicion for a pat-down in that the Defendant demonstrated “concerning behavior” such as, dropping his beer bottle, backing away from the Detective, the bulge in his waistband, and the Defendant immediately put his hands in his pocket. This behavior, coupled with the high crime area, was enough for the Court to determine the pat-down was reasonable, and therefore Constitutional.
This case highlights the importance of staying up to date in the ever-changing legal landscape. Knowing the status of developments in the law is the key to avoiding criminal liability, as well as being an engaged citizenry in our participatory system of government. This blog post on a key new case was written by attorneys at Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. who handle criminal defense cases and appeals of criminal convictions throughout the state. This blog is written for educational purposes only. It is not intended as legal advice or a solicitation for services. It is an advertisement.
- This is not an absolute requirement. Many exceptions exist to the requirement of obtaining a search warrant, which are beyond the focus of this blog.
- Berry v. State, 18A-CR-1769 (Ind. Ct. App. 2019)