Supremes limit officer search | NevadaAppeal.com

Supremes limit officer search

Nevada’s Supreme Court says there’s a limit to how widely police officers can search someone who hasn’t been arrested.

The issue was raised in a Pahrump case in which a Nye County sheriff’s deputy conducted a pat-down search of a man stopped while riding a motorcycle.

During the search, the officer felt something small in Satan Renee Conners’ pocket, which he admitted he knew was not a weapon. Suspecting it might be contraband, he pulled the vial out of the man’s pocket and discovered it was methamphetamine.

Conners was charged with possessing a controlled substance, but his lawyers argued the drug evidence must be suppressed because the search went beyond what the officer was legally permitted to do.

The District Court agreed and the Nye County District Attorney’s Office appealed to the Nevada Supreme Court.

Justices Cliff Young, Deborah Agosti and Myron Leavitt agreed with the lower court that the search was unconstitutional.

They cited U.S. Supreme Court rulings which say an officer can stop a person to make reasonable inquiries into unusual conduct.

“If the officer believes that the individual may be carrying a weapon, he or she may conduct a pat-down search of the individual in the interest of officer safety,” the opinion issued Friday states.

But the court says unless contraband is in plain view or otherwise “immediately apparent” to the officer, that’s the limit of the search.

In the Conners case, the justices agreed the deputy continued his search beyond the point where he determined it wasn’t a weapon and violated the man’s constitutional rights in the process.

They ruled the search illegal and ordered the methamphetamine evidence suppressed.