Officer Timothy Johnson was working Unit 226 in the Northern District on the midnight-to-eight shift. He had gone into the station to gas up his marked patrol car about 3:00 AM. As he was leaving he heard the dispatcher put out an “Amber Alert” call for missing child. The three-year old girl, Wanda Jones, had been taken from the home of her custodial grandmother who saw the estranged father put the child in the trunk of a small foreign sports car. Wanda is white female, 27 inches tall, short brown hair, brown eyes last seen wearing a light blue nightshirt. The father was Albert Finney, 69 inches tall, brown hair, brown, brown eyes, wearing a white tee-short and blue jeans. “No further description of the vehicle is available at this time.” the dispatcher announced.
Officer Johnson realized the address provided in the broadcast was in the Northern District, about 2 miles east of the stationhouse. He hurried back to his patrol area after noting all of the dispatched information. About an hour later Johnson pulled up at a traffic light behind a Fiat coupe sports car. In this community sports cars were not at all unusual, but as this one pulled away Johnson noticed that it stuttered and stalled. The driver re-started the car, but it stuttered forward and stalled again. Johnson quickly concluded either the driver was having mechanical trouble, or the driver was impaired, either way, he was going to perform a car stop.
Once Johnson got the car to pull over to the curb, he approached the driver’s window and asked for his license and vehicle registration. Doing so, Johnson notices no odor of alcohol but the driver was clearly nervous. The driver responded that he didn’t have his wallet with his license and the car registration. Back in his car Johnson entered the car license tag on his computer terminal and learned it was registered to a Ronald Wilson with an address across the city. As he was noting the address Officer Johnson looked up and was surprised to see that the driver had gotten out of his car and was approaching him.
Johnson got out of his car and, with his hand on the grip of his holstered sidearm ordered the driver to put his hands on the hood of the police car. Johnson did a quick pat down of the driver. In the front right pocket of the driver’s pants Johnson felt what he thought might be a handgun. Without hesitation Johnson reached into the pocket and retrieved a hand-carved pipe with a golf-ball size bowl and a 5-inch long pipe. Johnson’s senses and experience told him this was being used as a pot-pipe.
Johnson thought he had probable cause for an arrest, but he wasn’t interested in taking the time and effort for a single piece of drug paraphernalia. Still, Johnson handcuffed the driver and placed him in the rear seat of the patrol car. He asked the still-unidentified subject for his name. Elliott Watson was the response. Johnson noted that “Watson” had on a brown “hoodie” sweatshirt over a white tee-shirt and wore blue jeans. Both his hair and eyes looked brown in the street lighting available. Remembering the Amber Alert, Johnson asked the subject again if his name was Albert Finney…or Ronald Wilson. The handcuffed subject in the backseat repeated his name was Elliott Watson and said that the officer better let him go “ ‘cause he didn’t do anything wrong.”
Unsatisfied, Officer Johnson returned to the sports car and, after reaching in to retrieve the keys from the ignition, used the keys to open the vehicle trunk. All the while he could hear “what do you think your doin’?” And, “Stay outta my car!” coming from the rear seat of his unit. In the streetlight Johnson saw a large dry cleaner-type cellophane bag containing what appeared to the officer to be marijuana. Johnson returned to his car and informed the man who identified himself as Elliott Watson that he was under arrest for possession of suspected marijuana with intent to distribute.
Carefully look at the facts and explain your answers to the issues in a formal memorandum by using search and seizure law, the facts and reasonable inferences from those facts.
Identify and evaluate any issues regarding the stop, continued detention, pat down and/or searches or arrest of Mr. Watson using cases and principles we have studied to support your arguments. Please conclude the memorandum with a discussion of whether the arrest of Mr. Watson and search of his vehicle were valid.
** Use cases we have studied, the texts and modules we have read and other cases you might find in your research to support your evaluation of the issues. Cite any resources you use to compose this memorandum