Illinois Court Chides Police for Illegal Pat-Down Search

pat-down search, search, your rights, police, illegal search, drug crimesPolice officers must have a “reasonable suspicion” before stopping and frisking a person thought to be in possession of illegal drugs. On June 12 of this year, an Illinois appeals court overturned a drug conviction after finding police acted unreasonably in searching a defendant based solely on an uncorroborated witness account that a drug deal had taken place. The court’s decision also illustrates the importance of having proper defense counsel in drug cases, as the defendant unsuccessfully represented himself at trial.

A Questionable Pat-Down

The case arose from a February 2011 incident involving the defendant and a pair of Chicago police officers. A woman approached the officers and told them she had just purchased illegal drugs from a man on a nearby street corner. She apparently gave the officers a description of the man, although the officers did not provide those details in their official report or later as trial witnesses.

The officers went to the street location identified by the women. There, they observed a man fitting the woman’s description. He was “clasping hands” with another man. The officers interpreted this as an illegal drug deal.

The officers approached the man, who did not attempt to flee or make any otherwise suspicious movement. The officers then proceeded to conduct a pat-down search. They recovered illegal narcotics and some cash.

The defendant declined the services of the public defender and represented himself at trial. He moved to suppress the drug evidence on the grounds the police search was unconstitutional. The trial court denied this motion, and a jury convicted the defendant for illegal possession of a controlled substance.

No Grounds for Search

The Appellate Court of Illinois agreed with the defendant that the police search was illegal. The appeals court noted there was no evidence police actually witnessed a drug deal. All the officers saw was the defendant and another man clasp hands. They never saw any drugs prior to the search.

Pat-down searches are justified if necessary to ensure a police officer’s safety. But there was nothing in the trial record suggesting the officers believed the defendant was armed. To the contrary, the appeals court chided the prosecution for asking one of the officers a leading question suggesting a “general belief” that drug dealers carry weapons. Such a belief does not automatically justify any and all pat-down searches, the appeals court said. Accordingly, the appeals court reversed the defendant’s conviction.

Never Defend Yourself in Court

Cases like this illustrate the importance of not going into court without proper representation. When facing serious drug charges, you should always have the assistance of an experienced Illinois criminal defense attorney. Contact the Law Offices of Hal M. Garfinkel LLC, Chicago Criminal Defense Attorney today if you have any questions.

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