Last month, the Appellate Court decided the prosecution’s appeal of a lower court’s unfavorable decision in a firearm possession case. It is unusual for the prosecutors to appeal and they can only do so under very limited circumstances. The State had originally asked the lower court to admit evidence, including two handguns, that resulted from an officer’s pat down of the defendant, and the lower court had determined that the evidence could not come in at trial. When the State appealed, the higher court reviewed the evidence of the case, ultimately deciding that the lower court’s decision was correct and that the officer did not have a legal basis to conduct a pat down of the defendant.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, the defendant was driving one evening when an officer attempted to pull him over for several traffic violations, including parking illegally, failing to stop at a stop sign, and failing to signal while turning. At first, the defendant did not stop for the officer, so the officer called in backup to help him conduct the stop.
When the backup officer came to the scene, he saw the defendant get out of the car and start running away. The officer did not know the details of what was going on, but he knew that the original officer was trying to conduct a traffic stop of the individual. The second officer then started chasing the defendant. He tackled the defendant, handcuffed him, and pat him down, finding two handguns between his legs.
The defendant was criminally charged, and he asked the trial court to suppress the evidence of the guns that the officer found while patting him down. According to the defendant, the officer had no idea whether the defendant was involved in any kind of criminal activity. Therefore, the officer had no reason to actually tackle, handcuff, or search the defendant. Without a legal basis for any of these actions, the evidence the officer obtained should not be admissible at trial.
The lower court granted the defendant’s motion to suppress, and the State appealed. Reviewing the record, the court of appeals found that it agreed with the lower court. Just because the defendant was running, said the court, there was no reasonable suspicion that he was involved in criminal activity. The officer thus did not have reason to tackle the defendant, and the resulting evidence should not be admitted at trial. As a result, the lower court’s decision was affirmed, and, in all likelihood, the case against the defendant will be dismissed for lack of evidence.
Police Officers are very limited during a traffic stop and may not routinely frisk individuals, or pat them down during a routine traffic stop. In a case that we won recently, the Appellate Court ruled that the police were not even permitted to ask if there were any weapons in the car absent a founded suspicion or criminality.
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