I - Professor Suni
Search & Seizure Problem - Winter 2004
Officer John Stevens was on car patrol one night in Mission Hills, Mokans (a largely white, upper class suburb). Much of his work recently had been to investigate a rash of burglaries in the area.
At 8:00 p.m., he observed two black males and a black female loading items from a home into a van parked in the driveway. Stevens was concerned that a burglary might be in progress, so he approached the three people and, after identifying himself, asked for identification. Each person produced identification showing residence in Kansa City, Mokans (a predominantly minority area on the other side of town). Officer Stevens asked what they were doing. The woman, Linda Dobbs, responded that her brother had just signed a contract to sell the house and she was moving some items for him. Officer Stevens asked for his name, and Dobbs responded "Jessie Caldwell." Officer Stevens checked the name on the door of the house and it read Caldwell.
Stevens asked Dobbs where her brother was, and she answered that he was at work. When questioned further, she could only respond that he worked "at that big computer company in Mission." She appeared very nervous.
Stevens decided to check this out further. He told Dobbs and her two companions, Evans and Whitman, that he wanted to check out their story. He told them to remain next to the van where he could see them while he radioed for information and assistance, and he took the keys out of the van's ignition before returning to his car. Once at the cruiser, he radioed for a back-up unit and for information on the house and vehicle.
While Stevens was on the car radio, Evans jumped into the van, started it up with an extra set of keys he had in his pocket, and drove away. Stevens immediately issued an alert to other cars in the area to apprehend a green Ford van, license #WYP 1245, driven by a black male burglary suspect.
Convinced now that he had come upon a burglary, Stevens decided not to wait for a response to his radio check. He returned to the two remaining suspects and told them to "assume the position." He then patted both down. Upon feeling a hard object in Whitman's pocket, he removed the item, finding a pipe. On examining the pipe, he discovered what he believed to be marijuana residue. He then intensified his search of Whitman, finding a baggie of marijuana in his shirt pocket. His patdown of Dobbs revealed nothing.
At that point, one backup unit arrived. The backup officer entered the house to look for other suspects. In the kitchen, he found a purse on the counter. He brought the purse outside where the officers were waiting with the suspects. Dobbs stated the purse was hers. Stevens told Dobbs he wanted to look in the purse, and she responded "I guess you can." In the purse, Stevens found a small quantity of marijuana in a film canister. At about this time, one of the officers received a report from headquarters that the house was owned by Dobb's brother, that he was at work, and that she did have permission to move items for him.
Meanwhile, as the green van fled, a radar gun clocked its speed at 8 miles over the limit. Officer Jones, on routine traffic patrol, pulled the van over and asked for the driver's license and registration. He took these back to his car and began writing a citation when he heard the report about the van. Upon hearing the report, Jones returned to the van and ordered Evans out. He patted him down and, after finding nothing, reached into the back of the van and removed a small paper bag. He opened the bag and found a hash pipe and a small quantity of marijuana. Officer Jones then handcuffed Evans and radioed for help. When his backup unit arrived, Jones placed Evans in his squad car and left for the stationhouse. The backup unit remained on the scene and searched the back of the van, finding a closed cardboard box on the floor. They opened the box and found gambling paraphernalia.
Evans, Whitman and Dobbs were all prosecuted for possession of marijuana, and Evans was also charged with possession of the gambling paraphernalia.
Discuss all search and seizure issues raised by these facts.