Articles Posted in Law Enforcement

There comes a time in everyone’s life when you must admit that you are defeated. In the context of a police encounter it is important to know when that moment comes, and what to do. In order to illustrate when, and why it becomes necessary to admit possession, a hypothetical example will be given illustrating the consequences of failing to admit defeat. It is rarely advisable to admit knowingly possessing controlled substances, alcohol, or weapons. However, there are times where it is advisable to admit such possession to a police officers.

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The Situation

Donald is driving his car down the highway, when he is pulled over by a police officer for a broken taillight. Donald is nervous as he is in possession of half an ounce of marijuana and he knows his car smells like it. Fearing the worst, Donald stuffs the marijuana in his underwear hoping to hide it if the officer searches the car. The officer approaches the window and ask Donald for his License, and proof of insurance, the officer immediately smells the marijuana and now has probable cause to search the vehicle[1] without a warrant pursuant to “The Auto Exception” doctrine set forth in Carrol[2]. The officer then asks Donald if he has anything illegal in the car. Donald says no. The officer then asks Donald for consent to search the car, Donald says no. The police officer then asks Donald to step out of the car, places him in handcuffs, pats him down. During the pat down the officer misses the marijuana Donald has stashed on his person. The officer then leads Donald to the back of the patrol car and tells him he will begin to search his car for marijuana. Donald protest, but knows in his mind the officer will not find anything as he has hidden it on his person. The officer proceeds to search Donald’s car for marijuana, and ultimately finds a bit of marijuana on the floor of the vehicle that Donald had missed. Evidence secured, the officer returns to Donald and tells him he will be arrested for possession of marijuana[3]. Donald his distraught as he believed he had gotten all of it. The officer then asks Donald if he has any marijuana on him. Donald says no, believing the charge will get worse if he turns over the rest of the marijuana.

Today marks the 41st anniversary of the landmark decision of South Dakota v. Opperman[1][2] in which the Supreme Court laid out the basis for what would be known as the Inventory search exception to the warrant requirement of the fourth amendment. This decision has allowed for a dramatic expansion in the number of warrantless searches the State can conduct.

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The Case

The case that made up the basis of Opperman was surprisingly mundane, and yet indicative of the kind of cases that would be affected by this landmark ruling. In the early morning hours of December 10th, 1973, Mr. Opperman’s car was found illegally parked in downtown Vermillion, South Dakota. Pursuant to police procedures, the officers impounded the vehicle. However, as the officers impounded the car, they noticed a number of valuable items strewn about the interior of the vehicle. The officers, fearing that the items could be stolen opened the vehicle and inventoried the items inside of it. While searching the interior of the vehicle, the officers found a small amount of marijuana located in the glovebox. When Mr. Opperman came to the police station to retrieve his vehicle the following day, he was arrested on the spot for possession of marijuana.

Terry v. Ohio[1]’s “narrow” ruling on the constitutionality of police stop and pat downs absent probable cause has opened up a whole new world of Supreme Court jurisprudence. The Court has sketched out the scope of these searches, seizures, and what remedies apply to constitutional violations resulting from them.

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Simple Scope Expansions for Vehicles

The Supreme Court quickly extended the principles of Terry from beat cops seeing suspicious behavior on the street, to police officers who see suspicious behavior on the road and in vehicles. Beginning with Pennsylvania v. Mimms[2], the Court allowed for officers to ask people to exit their vehicle and conduct a “Terry Frisk” when the officer has reasonable suspicion that the person is armed and dangerous.

The phrase “Stop and Frisk” has become a common feature of today’s political debate. The practice is often brought up in discussions of police tactics, court cases, and criminal justice. However, the average person has little awareness of the jurisprudence surrounding the practice. Unfortunately, people must be aware of what the practice actually is to properly safe guard their constitutional rights against abusive and unconstitutional police action.

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What is “Stop and Frisk”?

The phrase “Stop and Frisk” is a shortened way of describing two distinct government actions of a Terry stop, and a Terry frisk both of which arose out of the 1968 case of Terry v Ohio[1]. Terry v Ohio has proven to be one of the most important Supreme Court decisions in terms of the practical impact on the fourth amendment[2].  Terry outlined a new way of interpreting the meaning of the fourth amendment’s reasonableness and probable cause requirements in the context of a search and seizure.

The protections enshrined in the ubiquitous words of the Miranda rights are meant to protect your right against self-incrimination. However, these rights are not self-executing, and require affirmative invocation in order to be effective. The need for invocation is particularly important regarding the right to remain silent.

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In order to invoke your right to silence, you must affirmatively invoke that right[1]. Following the decision of Berghuis v. Thompkins[2] The Supreme Court in a 5-4 judgment has held that to invoke your right to remain silent, you must affirmatively invoke that right. If you fail to affirmatively invoke your right to silence but remain silent, that silence may be used against you to show that you had knowledge of your right to remain silent.

The police shooting of a mentally ill Dallas man sent shockwaves across the country this week after a neighbor’s home surveillance system showed the man had been standing still when shot, contrary to what the offending officer stated. The Dallas Police Department reports that the officer, Cardan Spencer, and his partner were dispatched after the victim’s mother called police for help in dealing with her son, who suffers from schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. According to the arrest affidavit, Spencer shot Bennett after he walked toward him and his partner with a “knife raised in an aggressive manner”. However, the neighbor’s surveillance video, which has spread widely over the internet, proves the victim had not moved towards the officers at all when Spencer shot him down.

According to data compiled by Bloomberg News, 64 mentally-ill citizens died after being shot with a gun or electroshock device by law enforcement in 2012, about three times as many deaths as 2009. No officers in the 64 incidents were found criminally liable, leading many to question police accountability. Just last year, a Justice Department investigation based solely on violent police encounters with Portland, Oregon’s mentally ill found nine cases with a “pattern or practice of unreasonable force”, with gaps in mental health care increasing the frequency of potentially fatal police encounters.

“It is a shame that a bullet is what our mental health safety net has become,” said Louis Josephson, CEO of Riverbend Community Mental Health in New Hampshire. Since the mid-1950’s, the number of beds in state hospitals has decreased by 92%, with only 42,385 beds available in 2011. In addition, the average duration of acute-care psychiatric hospital stays is now a mere 7.8 days, 60% shorter than stays in 1993 and drastically shorter than the recommended two weeks mentally ill patients need for medications to stabilize.