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Maryland Criminal Attorney discusses the frisk component of the Terry stop based upon reasonable articulable suspicion

Maryland Criminal Lawyer Maryland Criminal Attorney – Baltimore Criminal Lawyer – Baltimore Criminal Attorney. I had an interesting stop and frisk case today in the Baltimore City Circuit Court. I was prepared for trial today but unfortunately the case was postponed because the Assistant State’s Attorney was in trial on another case. In this case I will be moving to suppress the evidence because although I believe that the State has a reasonable argument that the police officer who stopped my client had reasonable articulable suspicion to do so, I do not believe that the officer had reasonable articulable suspicion to believe that my client was armed and dangerous and conduct a pat down of my client which led to the recovery of illegal narcotics.

The facts of the case are simple. The police allege that they observed my client drive up to an apartment complex in area of town with a high volume of drug activity. They claim that they watched as my client beeped his horn a few times signalling a women to come out of an apartment. The women then allegedly gets into my client’s car for just a few seconds and the police claim to see some sort of exchange take place. The women then exits the car and is allegedly examining small objects in her hand that the police claim are consistent in size and shape of controlled dangerous substances such as cocaine or heroin. Based solely on these observations the police pull my client over, order him out of the car and pat him down, supposedly looking for weapons to ensure officer safety, and recover 40 capsules containing cocaine.

As I said, I believe that if a court were to believe that the officer’s really saw what they claim to have seen (I find their claims rather dubious given that this incident occurred at night and my client has dark tinted windows) that a case could be made that they had reasonable articulable suspicion to stop my client for a short duration to investigate and ultimately confirm or dispel their suspicions. That type of stop would usually involve questioning the individual who is stopped and making observations about him and his vehicle to either raise their suspicions to the level of probable cause at which point they could search him and the vehicle, or dispel their suspicions and let the person be on his way.

But that’s not what these officers did. Instead they immediately ordered him out of the car and conducted a pat down of his outer clothing. They claim that during this process, they felt a bulge that they recognized to be drugs which they then recovered. The problem is that just because the police have RAS to stop someone does not automatically give them the right to frisk that person. That second and more intrusive step requires an independent evaluation by the officers that leads them to conclude, based on articulable facts and not a hunch, that the person is armed and dangerous.

The appellate courts have held that stops to investigate certain types of crimes such as crimes of violence and the distribution of large amounts of CDS are so inherently dangerous to the officer that the frisk is automatically allowed along with the stop. But not so for other crimes including the distribution of small quantities of narcotics as we have in this case. In other words the courts have refused to draw a bright line rule allowing police officers to automatically frisk anyone that they have RAS to believe is involved in the distribution of narcotics – a bright line rule they surely could have drawn had they wanted to do so.

The court’s have held that in arrests not involving large amounts of narcotics or crimes of violence, there must be other circumstances present to justify the pat down. Examples of these circumstances would be if the officer saw the characteristic bulge of a weapon in the suspects clothing, an inexplicable sudden movement toward a pocket, awareness by the officers that the person has previously been armed and awareness of “circumstances that might prompt the suspects to take defensive action because of a misunderstanding of the officer’s authority or purpose”. Simpler v. State.

Given that none of these or other similar observations were made by the officers, it seems clear to me that they did not have RAS to believe that my client was armed and dangerous and therefore violated his Fourth Amendment rights when they searched him. This should lead to the suppression of the evidence against him and his acquittal of all charges.