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Can police officers lawfully pat people down to look for drugs?

On Behalf of | Jan 15, 2024 | Drug Offenses |

Police officers are often so eager to maintain high arrest or solve rates that they may violate people’s rights in pursuit of “a win.” They may become unnecessarily aggressive when taking people into state custody or might conduct searches that technically violate someone’s civil rights.

Few searches are more invasive than a pat-down or frisk. When a police officer physically searches someone’s body, the individual may feel a sense of violation. Officers may then try to use anything they find during that search to build a legal case against that individual.

One of the more common defense strategies used when people face drug charges or similar criminal allegations is to challenge the validity of certain evidence. Illegal searches can lead to the exclusion of evidence from criminal proceedings. When would a bodily search or pat-down be an illegal search that produces unusable evidence?

Officers can only frisk people in three situations

The law about bodily searches in Indiana is relatively clear. It reflects and expands on federal standards for the same issue. Police officers cannot physically search people without a valid justification for doing so.

They sometimes ask for and receive permission. Consensual searches might lead to officers finding something that they believe justifies arresting an individual. However, those who may know they have something legally questionable in their pockets may not agree to let an officer search them.

Officers may need to find a reason to conduct a search. The law prevents them from searching on speculation alone. Usually, to justify a pat-down of someone who is not subject to arrest, an officer would need to have a reasonable suspicion that that individual had a weapon on their person. Being in a certain neighborhood would not constitute a reasonable suspicion. Neither does the belief that they may have drugs. A police officer would need a real justification to defend their choice at trial.

The last scenario in which an officer can search someone physically is when they take them into state custody. Police officers can check people for weapons and drugs before transporting them to state facilities.

Understanding the rules that limit certain types of police conduct may help people plan the best defense strategy possible after an arrest, especially if their rights have been violated in some way.

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