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Off-duty police officer’s stop and frisk violated Fourth Amendment

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The stop, search and subsequent discovery of drugs violated the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches even though the police officer was off duty at the time of the incident, the Indiana Court of Appeals has ruled.

In Derek Clanton v. State of Indiana, No. 49A02-1203-CR-198, the COA concluded the trial court erred in admitting the cocaine into evidence because the arresting officer was not entitled to the further search that led to the discovery of the narcotics. Accordingly, the court reversed the judgment of the trial court.

Clanton was stopped and searched at an apartment complex by off-duty police officer Michael Price who was working part-time as a security officer. During the pat down of Clanton, Price felt a sharp object in his front pocket, removed it and found it was a pen cap. Inside the cap, he saw a plastic bag and upon closer examination discovered the cocaine.

Clanton was arrested and subsequently found guilty of possession of cocaine as a Class D felony. He appealed on the grounds that the cocaine should not have been admitted into evidence because the officer’s seizure violated his constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.

The state contended the Fourth Amendment was not implicated by Price’s action because he was off duty. In disagreeing, the court held that the nature of his actions were consistent with his law enforcement training. Although the officer was off duty and on private property, the Fourth Amendment protections do apply to the stop and frisk he initiated.

Consequently, the discovery of the cocaine violated Clanton’s right prohibiting unreasonable searches because Price admitted he had to make a closer examination of the bag before he realized it contained the drug.

Judge Cale Bradford concurred the search was subject to Fourth Amendment protections but dissented that the stop and search were a violation of constitutional rights.

Affirming the trial court’s judgment, Bradford argued, “The fact that Officer Price did not know exactly which drug was stored in the plastic does not, in my view, render his removal of the plastic and subsequent seizure of the drugs found within unreasonable.”




 

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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