There are many different kinds of police interactions, some of which may feel more invasive than others. There are also many laws protecting people from the abuse of police authority and prior court rulings clarifying what agents of the state can lawfully do during an interaction.
Police officers engaging with members of the public often do so out of suspicion of criminal activity. Officers can engage with people that they encounter in public spaces without necessarily violating their rights. However, what starts as a few questions could quickly turn into a police officer physically searching someone’s body. That can be a disempowering and even humiliating experience for the person searched. Sometimes, officers deciding to frisk or pat down an individual is actually a violation of their rights.
The law on bodily searches is very specific
There are both state laws and federal court rulings addressing physical searches of someone’s body. Often, police officers ask for permission to pat down or search an individual. Those who give their consent are largely at the mercy of the officer.
Those who deny consent for a search might still end up experiencing a pat down in one of two scenarios. Police officers can justify frisking an individual when they have a reasonable suspicion of that person possessing a dangerous weapon. Suspicions that they are in possession of contraband, including drugs, are not sufficient reason to conduct a search of someone’s person. Only suspicion of a weapon would justify an officer’s choice to physically search someone without their consent.
If a police officer has the probable cause necessary to arrest someone for a crime, then a physical search would likely occur in that situation as well. Police can bodily search individuals before taking them into state custody as a way to keep contraband out of state facilities.
Police officers who physically search individuals without permission or reason to believe there is a weapon present may have violated that individual’s civil rights and the laws regulating police activity in Missouri. A defense attorney might be able to challenge the use of evidence found during an illegal search of a defendant. As such, learning more about the rules that apply to police activity may help those accused of breaking the law plan the most effective defense strategy possible given their circumstances.