9/3/2013Kentucky Supreme Court Chides Cops For Searching Litterbug Motorist
Cops in Kentucky may not order a motorist out of a car and search him simply because he refuses to answer questions.
Kentucky's highest court on Thursday admonished police officers that they cannot force motorists out of a vehicle and search them merely because they refuse to answer questions. The court took up the traffic stop of Thomas Frazier, 48, who was waiting in a fast food drive-through lane on June 7, 2008 when a friend of his son's, a passenger, tossed some trash out of the window. Boone County Sheriff Deputies Mike Moore and Nate Boggs were behind in an unmarked patrol car and decided to follow Frazier's silver Ford.
The deputies claimed Frazier failed to signal a left-hand turn in a left-turn-only lane. They conducted a traffic stop in which Frazier produced his license and insurance when asked, but he balked when Deputy Moore asked him to identify his passengers and explain where they were going.
"Does it matter?" Frazier replied.
Enraged, Deputy Moore ordered Frazier to exit the vehicle, and Deputy Boggs conducted a pat-down search over Frazier's objection. Boggs felt something "suspicious" in the driver's front jeans pocket. Frazier refused to identify the object, so Deputy Boggs reached in and grabbed a bag of marijuana, justifying it later by saying Frazier was "nervous" and "belligerent." Frazier was sentenced to 150 days in jail and a $500 fine for marijuana possession and criminal littering.
The Court of Appeals reversed Frazier's littering conviction, but upheld the others. The Supreme Court majority found the lower courts were wrong and that there was no reason to suspect Frazier was armed.
"Here, Frazier's nervous and marginally insolent demeanor was the sole basis for the frisk," the court majority ruled. "While Frazier's refusal to consent to a search may have aggravated the officers, that refusal cannot be considered as a basis for reasonable suspicion of criminal activity, as such a determination would violate the Fourth Amendment."
The Supreme Court majority ordered all of the evidence against Frazier suppressed. In a partial dissent, three justices argued police should be able to pull anyone out of an automobile who refuses to display sufficient subservience to a law enforcement officer.
"The traffic stops of perfect strangers, especially those of cars loaded with people, always carry unknown dangers," Justice Bill Cunningham wrote. "Such insolent behavior can -- as in this case -- signal a belligerence that can easily escalate to violence. The officer was standing by the door of a car full of people. The driver, at least, was hateful. Unknowing what weapon might lurk in the midst of them, I would not question the wisdom or legitimacy of having the driver step out of the car and patting him down."
A copy of the ruling is available in a 200k PDF file at the source link below.