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Chicago Police Justified in Stopping, Not Searching, Man Suspected of Selling Drugs

A man arrested after police stopped and searched him while he stood near a street corner in Chicago's South Side got his conviction overturned by the Illinois Appellate Court because, while the police had sufficient grounds for stopping the man, they did not have a valid basis for searching him. The outcome highlights that police cannot use as grounds for a search the claimed fear that the suspect might have a gun, based solely on suspicion that the suspect was engaged in the drug trade.

A man arrested after police stopped and searched him while he stood near a street corner in Chicago's South Side got his conviction overturned by the Illinois Appellate Court because, while the police had sufficient grounds for stopping the man, they did not have a valid basis for searching him. The outcome highlights that police cannot use as grounds for a search the claimed fear that the suspect might have a gun, based solely on suspicion that the suspect was engaged in the drug trade.

The case arose from the arrest of Lamont Boswell by Chicago Police officers in February 2011. The officers acted in response to a tip they received from an unknown woman who approached them. Armed with the information that a man was selling narcotics on the corner of 43rd Street and Cottage Avenue, the officers went to that area. Arriving at the corner, the officers found that Boswell matched the description given by the woman. The officers also believed they witnessed the conclusion of a drug sale when they saw Boswell clasping hands with another man. Based on this, the officers stopped Boswell and conducted a "pat-down" search, where they found heroin, pills, and $191 in cash.

At his drug trial, Boswell sought to suppress the drug evidence, arguing that the officers lacked probable cause to stop and search him. The trial court ruled against him, and he was convicted. On appeal, Boswell renewed his contention that the stop and search were not legal. The appellate court upheld the stop as permissible. The police are allowed to make these kinds of stops if they reasonably believe that criminal activity has occurred. The officer in Boswell's case had reasonable grounds, based upon the tip and Boswell's body language, to believe that a crime had occurred and make the stop.

What the officer did not have, however, was proper grounds for searching Boswell. Even though the officer testified at trial that, based upon his years of experience dealing with illegal drug trafficking, "guns and drugs go together," this was not enough proof to create a reasonable suspicion that Boswell had a weapon on his person. The sort of pat-down search the police gave Boswell requires something more than just an officer's general opinion that a drug dealer might have a firearm on his or her person. It requires specific facts that create a specific basis that would cause the officer to have a justifiable fear for his safety or that of others. Allowing the police such a broad power to search would mean that they would have justification for stopping and searching anyone at any time as long as they were in an area known for frequents sales of illegal drugs.

Boswell did not engage in any furtive behavior or try to run away from the police. He also did not have any suspicious bulges in his clothing. The officers saw neither drugs nor weapons in his possession. On these facts, the pat-down search was a Fourth Amendment violation.

In drug cases, the police often collect important evidence through a search of the suspect's person. If they did not have a valid, legal reason for performing that search, the evidence recovered is not admissible. If you or a loved one are facing drug charges, talk to the DuPage County drug crimes attorneys at Martin & Kent. Our attorneys can help you assess your case and work with you to aggressively challenge evidence against you procured through a search.

Contact us online or by calling (888) 388-9151 to schedule your confidential initial consultation at no charge.

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