Don't Adjust Your Pants in ...

Don't Adjust Your Pants in Front of the Cops or Else They May Search You!

The Missouri Supreme Court recently held in, State of Missouri, Respondent vs. Elton J. Norfolk, that a defendant adjusted his pants in a manner that officer's "experience and training reasonably caused her to believe was the illegal concealment of a weapon." Those facts allowed for the officer to stop, search and seize the defendant. In my opinion this is just one more example that the cops can almost always use the magic language "on their experience and training" and the courts will believe the cops knew what they were doing.

The facts in this case are pretty straight forward. The officer was on routine patrol in a marked car in the city of St. Louis. The officer was patrolling a particular area because there had been several armed roberies there in the recent past. Officer was driving down the street and made eye contact with the defendant, who was stading on teh corner. After making eye contact the officer says the defendant "adjusted his pants in a manner that led her to believe he was concealing a weapon." The officer then pulled over and followed the defendant into a convenience store. In the convenience store the officer approached the defendant and told him he needed to come outside so that the officer could search him. The defendant said no. The officer then told the defendant that if he had nothing to hide he would be fine. As soon as the defendant was outside the officer searched him and found a gun in his waistband. The defendant was placed under arrest and eventually charged with unlawful use of a weapon, and possession of marijuana.

Defendant's attorney filed a motion to suppress all the items seized, arguing the search was unlawful because it was conducted pursuant to an illegal stop. The trial court denied defendant's motion to suppress. The defendant then proceeded to a bench trial where he was eventually found guilty on both counts.

The Missouri Supreme Court eventually agreed with the trial court and upheld the denial of the defendant's motion to suppress. The Missouri Supreme Court cited Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 16 (1968), stating that the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution allows a brief investigative detention if the officer has reasonable suspicion, based on articulable facts, that illegal activity has occurred or is occurring.

In my opinion I believe the Missouri Supreme Court has pushed the Terry stop to a new level in this case. It seems like the Missouri Supreme Court is saying that as long as an officer has a hunch it will be alright to search and seize the person. I believe the US Supreme Court in Terry would not agree with the Missouri Supreme Court on these facts and would require more. I consider this opinion to be a loss for the 4th Amendment in Missouri. I guess we will have to see what the future holds for this opinion.

If you ever have questions about search and seizure issues contact an attorney at our firm.

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