Can the Police Pat Me Down to Look for Drugs?

Kimberly2 1 Author:

Kimberly J. Benjamin, Founder & Managing Attorney

Can a Police Officer Pat Me Down to Search for Drugs?

Being stopped by a police officer can be an intimidating experience for anyone. Even though you might think you’ve done nothing illegal, the cops can disagree.

The situation intensifies if law enforcement officers decide to conduct a search. You may wonder if such a search is legal and if you should refuse to consent to the same. This article answers these and other related questions.

A law enforcement officer can pat you down if they suspect and reasonably believe that you are committing a crime or are in possession of a weapon. However, even if the initial search is to look for weapons, officers may seize any contraband, such as illegal drugs.

The officers may seize any controlled substances in your possession if they exceed the permissible legal limit. The police will likely use this as evidence against you in court which may lead to jail time for possession of drugs.

It is, however, critical to note that the primary purpose of the search must be to look for weapons. The scope of a pat-down cannot be broadened to include looking for drugs and other contraband.

You may allow such a pat-down if the officers legally stop you and request one. You can also choose not to consent to the search. However, the police can still search if they have legal grounds to do so.

What Is a Police Pat-Down Search?

A pat-down is a body search generally conducted during investigatory or traffic stops. During the search, a police officer pats down the outer portion of an individual’s clothing to find weapons.

A pat-down search is carried out without a search warrant and is an exception to the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The aim of a police pat down is to ensure safety.

What Is the Purpose of Police Pat-Down?

Police conduct a legal pat down as a security measure to determine if you have illegal items, such as:

  • Weapons
  • Illegal firearms

However, there are some limitations surrounding pat-down searches. The police officers should have reasonable suspicion for conducting the pat down. Moreover, they can only perform such a search on the outer garments of a suspect. Police officers should perform it with due caution, prudence, and sensitivity.

What Is the Proper Pat Down Procedure?

As noted above, the main reason for a pat-down is to protect the safety of the officers and not as a pretext for obtaining evidence.

Under such circumstances, a pat down should be carried out as follows:

  • During a police stop, the officer should provide their name and department identification. They should also state the reason for the stop in a polite manner.
  • The suspect should be in a standing position.
  • Officers can only feel the outer layer of the suspect’s clothing.
  • If the police frisk fails to disclose evidence, they should withhold further search.
  • If the weapon in possession constitutes a crime, the officer can make a custodial arrest.

What Are the Consequences for Illegal Pat Downs?

When officers arrest suspects for drug-related DUI/DWI offenses, they may subject them to police frisks. Those frisks may subject suspects to abuse of their civil rights. If you face such a situation, you can seek legal action against law enforcement.

If the pat down was illegal, any charges resulting from the search are dismissible. If, during a pat-down, an officer discovers legally prescribed medication or other drugs. Then the officers can seize them as evidence. The officers can only conduct arrests with probable cause or an arrest warrant.

How Can an Attorney Help You?

If police officers conduct unreasonable searches on you, you may seek legal action. An experienced attorney from Missouri DWI & Criminal Law Center will help you understand your legal options. Contact us for a free consultation today!

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