Law School Case Brief
United States v. King - 990 F.2d 1552 (10th Cir. 1993)
To determine whether an investigative detention or a protective search is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment, the inquiry is twofold. First, the officer's action must be justified at its inception. For an investigative detention, the officer must have an articulable and reasonable suspicion that the person detained is engaged in criminal activity. For a protective search to be justified at its inception, the officer must not only harbor an articulable and reasonable suspicion that the person is armed and dangerous, the officer must also be entitled to make a forcible stop.
A police officer, while talking to defendants, noticed a loaded pistol laying upon the automobile seat, which was permitted under N.M. Stat. Ann. § 30-7-2(A)(2) (1992). The officer, pistol drawn, ordered one defendant out of the car and handcuffed him. The other defendant got out of the car and was ordered to lie in the gravel. While lying in the gravel, the defendant discarded a bag containing drugs. The district court granted defendants' motion to suppress the drugs as fruit of an unlawful seizure. The United States government appealed.
Should the drugs seized be suppressed as a fruit of an unlawful seizure?
The United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court, holding that, while the officer was entitled to separate defendants from the pistol while the officer talked to defendants because the officer had an articulable safety reason justifying the intrusion, the officer's failure to use a less intrusive means to ensure the officer's safety was unreasonable and a violation of the Fourth Amendment. The Court further held that the district court was not clearly erroneous in finding that defendant's discarding of the drugs during the course of an unlawful detention was not sufficiently an act of free will to purge the primary taint of an unlawful invasion.
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