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7th Circuit: Officer allowed to resume frisk

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As one 7th Circuit Court of Appeals judge cautioned, it’s generally not a good idea to ride around in a car with cocaine on you when police have many reasons why they may legitimately stop the car.

The warning came from Judge Diane Wood in United States of America v. Jermarcus Robinson, No. 09-3955, in which Jermarcus Robinson appealed his conviction of possession with intent to distribute. The federal appellate court affirmed.

Fort Wayne Police Officer Shane Pulver pulled over the car Robinson was riding in because the officer recognized driver David Robinson as a habitual traffic offender who didn’t have a license. Within seven minutes of the initial stop, Pulver saw a pocket knife in Jermarcus Robinson’s pocket, began a pat-down of Robison as his sister and girlfriend drove up, a second officer responded, Pulver stopped his pat-down to search the car and found a digital scale, then resumed the pat-down and found the hard object he felt earlier near Robinson’s backside. The object was a bag of 54 grams of crack cocaine.

Robinson lost his motion to suppress the evidence and entered into a conditional plea agreement.

He argued that the events that occurred in the seven minutes of the stop and search should be divided into three distinct stages and that he should have been let go after stage one – when police first frisked him and then stopped. He claimed stage two – the search of the car – wasn’t authorized by Arizona v. Gant, 129 S.Ct. 1710 (2009), because he wasn’t arrested until after the car was searched so the search wasn’t incident of the arrest. He claimed stage three was when Pulver searched him again and found the cocaine.

“If these events had dragged out over a longer period, then Robinson’s account might be more persuasive,” wrote Judge Wood. “Similarly, we might be more inclined to see things his way if Velma and Sunny had not been hovering just steps away and becoming increasingly agitated. But they were there, and this was a rapidly evolving situation.”

When Pulver stopped his pat-down and went to the car, another officer was there to watch Robinson. Pulver handed off responsibility for Robinson to his partner, not because he had finished his frisk and Robinson was free to go. Robinson also originally tightened up when first frisked to prevent Pulver from finding the drugs. Pulver felt a hard object, believed it wasn’t a weapon, and went to secure the car before finishing the pat-down.

The judges looked at the incident as a single event, not different stages. They also ruled it wasn’t necessary to rely on the fact that Pulver saw the scale in the car to justify resuming his search of Robinson.  

“Finally, just because he indicated after the fact that his initial impression was that the hard object he felt for an instant during the first phase was not a weapon, objectively speaking something hard might have been harmful, and Pulver was entitled to assure himself that his first impression was correct,” wrote Judge Wood.
 

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  1. I expressed my thought in the title, long as it was. I am shocked that there is ever immunity from accountability for ANY Government agency. That appears to violate every principle in the US Constitution, which exists to limit Government power and to ensure Government accountability. I don't know how many cases of legitimate child abuse exist, but in the few cases in which I knew the people involved, in every example an anonymous caller used DCS as their personal weapon to strike at innocent people over trivial disagreements that had no connection with any facts. Given that the system is vulnerable to abuse, and given the extreme harm any action by DCS causes to families, I would assume any degree of failure to comply with the smallest infraction of personal rights would result in mandatory review. Even one day of parent-child separation in the absence of reasonable cause for a felony arrest should result in severe penalties to those involved in the action. It appears to me, that like all bureaucracies, DCS is prone to interpret every case as legitimate. This is not an accusation against DCS. It is a statement about the nature of bureaucracies, and the need for ADDED scrutiny of all bureaucratic actions. Frankly, I question the constitutionality of bureaucracies in general, because their power is delegated, and therefore unaccountable. No Government action can be unaccountable if we want to avoid its eventual degeneration into irrelevance and lawlessness, and the law of the jungle. Our Constitution is the source of all Government power, and it is the contract that legitimizes all Government power. To the extent that its various protections against intrusion are set aside, so is the power afforded by that contract. Eventually overstepping the limits of power eliminates that power, as a law of nature. Even total tyranny eventually crumbles to nothing.

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