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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. Your article is a good intro the recent amendments to Fed.R.Civ.P. For a much longer - though not necessarily better -- summary, counsel might want to read THE CHIEF UMPIRE IS CHANGING THE STRIKE ZONE, which I co-authored and which was just published in the January issue of THE VERDICT (the monthly publication of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association).

  2. Thank you, John Smith, for pointing out a needed correction. The article has been revised.

  3. The "National institute for Justice" is an agency for the Dept of Justice. That is not the law firm you are talking about in this article. The "institute for justice" is a public interest law firm. http://ij.org/ thanks for interesting article however

  4. I would like to try to find a lawyer as soon possible I've had my money stolen off of my bank card driver pressed charges and I try to get the information they need it and a Social Security board is just give me a hold up a run around for no reason and now it think it might be too late cuz its been over a year I believe and I can't get the right information they need because they keep giving me the runaroundwhat should I do about that

  5. It is wonderful that Indiana DOC is making some truly admirable and positive changes. People with serious mental illness, intellectual disability or developmental disability will benefit from these changes. It will be much better if people can get some help and resources that promote their health and growth than if they suffer alone. If people experience positive growth or healing of their health issues, they may be less likely to do the things that caused them to come to prison in the first place. This will be of benefit for everyone. I am also so happy that Indiana DOC added correctional personnel and mental health staffing. These are tough issues to work with. There should be adequate staffing in prisons so correctional officers and other staff are able to do the kind of work they really want to do-helping people grow and change-rather than just trying to manage chaos. Correctional officers and other staff deserve this. It would be great to see increased mental health services and services for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities in the community so that fewer people will have to receive help and support in prisons. Community services would like be less expensive, inherently less demeaning and just a whole lot better for everyone.

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