Cop Nabbed Gun Suspect Based on Way He Adjusted Pants

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Is this man carrying a weapon?
​Can a cop truly determine whether a man on a sidewalk is packing heat based on the way he adjusts his pants?

No, according to the Eastern District of the Missouri Court of Appeals in an opinion written this week.

Will that ruling benefit Elton Norfolk, who was unlawfully stopped and frisked back in 2009, prompting him to appeal his conviction for unlawful use of a weapon?

No, ruled the appellate judges, because "not all constitutional errors require reversal of convictions."

On August 19, 2009, Officer Julie Reynolds was on a routine patrol near the corner of Lexington and Vandeventer, in a neighborhood that had been the site of recent robberies. She noticed Norfolk standing on the corner, apparently adjusting his pants from the back. That's when Reynolds made the determination that Norfolk was concealing a gun, even though she didn't observe a visible bulge.

Reynolds would later testify: "When they adjust their pants, they adjust in the front. They don't adjust in the back. That's what I commonly see."

After Reynolds observed Norfolk fiddling with his pants, she made a u-turn, parked her car and followed Norfolk into a convenience store. Then she asked him to step outside and put his hands against a wall. Reynolds then lifted Nofolk's shirt, which revealed the butt of a gun sticking out from his waistband. Norfolk was also carrying a magazine, live cartridges and pot.

During the ensuing litigation, Norfolk admitted he was carrying a gun, but filed a motion to suppress it as evidence, based on his belief that he was unjustly stopped and searched.

The trial judge ruled that the search was legit and sentenced Norfolk for three years in prison. Norfolk appealed.

The court of appeals sympathized with Norfolk, opining that Reynolds, a patrol officer with two years experience, did not have reasonable cause to search Norfolk based on the way he adjusted his pants. Such a search violated Norfolk's Fourth Amendment liberties, which preserves the right of citizens to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, wrote the judges.

"The State failed to flesh out how many previous weapons arrests Officer Reynolds had engaged in and whether the individuals stopped only pulled up their pants in a way to suggest concealing a weapon with nothing more," Judge George Draper III wrote in the unanimous opinion. "Moreover ... [Reynolds] conceded Norfolk could have been merely pulling up his pants at the time she observed him."

But even though, as a general rule, all evidence obtained by illegal searches and seizures is inadmissible in court, the appellate judges ruled that the violation of Norfolk's civil rights was harmless beyond a reasonable doubt.

"Norfolk voluntarily stated under oath at trial that he possessed the gun and the drugs found after the search," wrote Judge Draper. "This confession prevents us from providing Norfolk any claim of relief on his point of error." Draper cited precedent from 1900 and suggested it might be time for the Missouri Supreme Court to weigh in on the issue.

Nick Zotos, an attorney who represented Norfolk during a probation revocation hearing following his trial, was not amused by the ruling.

"It's stop whomever you please and justify it afterwards," says Zotos, summing up his perception of law enforcement strategies in poor neighborhoods. "In north St. Louis the city police are like an occupying army. They treat it like Baghdad."

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8 comments
Imaslyone
Imaslyone

You bleeding heart Liberals. First of all he wasn't old enough to carry a conceled weapon.

If he held you up or shot a loved one of yours, you would be crying "Where were the police?"

Three years from now he'll be out carrying a gun again. Chances are he'll shoot someone.

Lock him up and throw away the key!!

Mindyourown
Mindyourown

The RFT failed to supply the whole details of the investigated stop. High crime area, known drug and hand area.and several robberies occured in that area. That was the reason for the officers presence. If you have CCW in the rules of the law your are to surrender that information to the officer when stopped. The fruit of the poison tree is not the case. An officer has a right to stop and conduct a "Terry Stop" for the protection of the officer. The defendant also has a right to deny the officers request. The defendant never refused to speak with the officer, came out willing. There's a lot more to the story they failed to mention. So get the facts before you try to play jury...

Mixtape
Mixtape

In fact, after quite a bit of research, I have found that few states require this, and MO is one of the states that does not. Therefore your argument is invalid.http://i214.photobucket.com/al...

Mixtape
Mixtape

Will you please point me to the statute that says that in Missouri you must advise an officer that you have a CCW and that you are carrying? I've read through MO's CCW statues many times and have never seen this mentioned. I know some states require this but I don't think MO does.http://www.moga.mo.gov/statute...

KITTY
KITTY

Attorney Zotos is so full of shit!  It's the other way around, Nick! While the police in north St. Louis are not really an occupying army, they patrol an area as dangerous as Fallujah or Sadr City. The cops are far out numbered and out gunned on the north side. It's little wonder they treat it like a combat zone. Zotos should thank the cops for providing him with his bread and butter: garden variety north side thugs in need of a criminal defense attorney. LIsten up Zotos, we certainly don't hear Scott Rosemblum or Brad Kessler whine to the media when one of their gangsta clients gets caught with his pants down.

Your Momma
Your Momma

Based on the fact that you can have a Concealed Carry Permit in Missouri, even if this officer had better reason to believe the defendant had a weapon on them how does that provide probable cause for a search?

Unless the officer happens to know the defendant and based on previous interactions in her capacity as an officer has direct knowledge he doesn't have a CCW - the probably cause for a search doesn't exist even absent questions about adjusting the pants being correlated to a concealed weapon, no? 

You can't just search anyone you believe to be carrying a weapon, because carrying that weapon maybe perfectly legal - it would seem to me. 

Secondly, IMO the confession should be considered fruit of the poison tree. The poison tree being the illegal search, no reasonable person believes the defendant would have confessed sans the cop's testimony that she found a gun during that search. 

The Judge is wrong. Just don't give a fuck about anyone's rights, same as this cop. Not advocating for drug dealing thugs, but trampling rights is not the answer. 

TuckerBlvd
TuckerBlvd

I have a CCW, own many guns, and believe in harsh punishments for illegal carrying of guns but I completely agree with you!  Norfolk is scum in my book but the rights of habeas corpus and liberty from illegal searches and seizures must take precedent.  If pulling up your pants is reasonable cause to assume someone is carrying a weapon than the vast majority of American males are instantly guilty of carrying a weapon in the eyes of SLPD.  That is just not good enough to justify probable cause for a search.

Regarding whether or not Norfolk's guilt remains valid due to his confession is another matter.

loki03xlh
loki03xlh

Maybe if the fool wasn't saggin', he wouldn't of been caught makin' an adjustment...

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