Can Police Frisk Me for Drugs?

The drug defense attorneys at GRL Law have seen their fair share of possession cases arising from police frisks.

It usually goes down like this.  Following a traffic stop for a minor traffic violation, the officer orders the driver to come back to the patrol car to process a citation.

Pro tip: You are seized by the officer and legally obligated to follow this instruction.  Don’t resist, or worse, assert your rights as a sovereign citizen.  You will be definitely arrested for interference and subjected to a full search of your person, clothing and accessories like a wallet, purse or bag.

And, just before reaching the vehicle, the officer says something like, “Do you mind if I check your pockets?  It’s department policy before entering my patrol car, you know, just to be safe.”  Unbeknownst to the driver, the officer is setting him up here to consent to a pat down that the officer isn’t otherwise allowed to conduct.  Normally, the driver owns up to holding by admitting there’s contraband in his pocket.  Now there’s probable cause to search.

Iowa law certainly allows police to frisk or pat down a person’s outer clothing when the officer reasonably believes the person is armed and a threat to officer safety.  Nervousness, evasiveness, lying and past experience are all factors for the office to consider when deciding to subject someone to a pat down.  Many other considerations weigh, however, against a frisk such as:

  • Lack of furtive movements
  • No attempt to flee
  • Person is alone
  • No threatening behavior or abusive language
  • Not known criminal history for weapons, violence or narcotics
  • No outstanding warrants
  • No observations of any suspicious bulge in clothing that might indicate a weapon.

A routine pat down before the driver enters the patrol car really isn’t for officer safety.  Instead, it’s a search for drugs.

If the incriminating nature of a pocketed item is immediately recognized as contraband, then the officer can seize it.  However, if the officer comes across an unknown object that is clearly not a weapon, drugs or paraphernalia, then he is not permitted to further manipulate the object in order to identify it.

Whatever the circumstances surrounding the pat down, GRL Law knows how to best defend possession cases that arise from a police frisk for weapons.  We’ll review traffic stop and body camera videos to establish there was no fear for officer safety in the first place to undermine the justification for the pat down.  That may very well lead to the suppression of any seized evidence and a dismissal of charges.