This is the ninth part in a series of posts about what legal obligations you have when you interact with the police.
You have been pulled over at the side of the interstate for going 75mph in a 65mph zone. The weather is cold and unpleasant. The officer who pulled you over already has your license. Now he asks that you step out of your vehicle so he can pat you down.
You might wonder if you have to comply.
Can a police officer pat you down?
The Best Answer
The BEST answer: Yes, you should get out of the car. You should tell him you do not consent to the search, but you should cooperate fully and not resist if he insists on patting you down.
The Correct Answer
The CORRECT answer: Yes, you must get out of the car. No, he’s not allowed to pat you down.
The Wrong Reaction
The WRONG reaction: Refuse to get out of the car or resist his attempts to pat you down.
Supreme Court Decision
The U.S. Supreme Court decided many years ago, in a case called Pennsylvania v. Mimms, that an officer may order someone who he has stopped for a traffic violation to get out of the car. Thus, you do not have a choice in the matter. It does not matter that the weather is unpleasant or that the officer does not have a clear reason for asking you to get out. When the officer asks you to “please step out of your car,” you have to do it. As mentioned in Part VIII of this series, these sorts of “requests” can be confusing.
A polite officer will often ask things like, “May I please see your license? Would you please step out of your car? Would you please pop your trunk? Would you please open your glove-box so I can take a look?” All of these sound like requests. But the first two are orders which may not be refused while the last two are fully optional requests which may, and should, be refused. According to Ohio laws, you have to identify yourself to the police but they cannot search your car without a warrant. The only way to tell the difference is to know your rights. Thus, as the CORRECT and BEST answers recognize, you must get out of the car when the officer asks you to.
When can police pat you down?
You may recall from prior blog posts, that an officer may conduct a pat-down search or “frisk” if he has reasonable suspicion to believe that you are armed and dangerous. But in this case, there’s no reason to believe that you are. You have been stopped for the minor crime of speeding. Speeding is not a violent offense; in contrast to, for instance, armed robbery, where the officer would have a reasonable suspicion that the offender is armed. Thus, the officer is not entitled to pat you down because without any reason to believe you have weapons or contraband, the search would simply be a “fishing expedition.” (A search with no clearly defined purpose.)
Can you refuse a police pat down?
You will likely remember from other posts that a person is never entitled to resist a police officer. If the officer insists upon violating your rights and patting you down, you cannot resist him. All you can do is come to court later and assert a civil action or attempt to exclude any evidence the officer finds during the pat-down. For this reason, the CORRECT answer states that the officer does not have the right to pat you down but the BEST answer recognizes that you cannot refuse to cooperate. You should, however, tell the officer you do not consent to any searches so that it is clear that he does not have your consent if he chooses to pat you down.
If you are under investigation, or have been arrested by any Columbus law enforcement agency, feel free to contact one of our experienced Columbus Criminal Defense Attorneys, for a free initial consultation about your legal rights and possible defenses.Related Posts