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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