If a Cop Is Illegally Searching You, You Have to Take It


…and if they say you did something to deserve a beating, they will be believed by the courts. 

Our old comrade Radley Balko does what he does best at The Agitator, chronicling how all-too-often citizens have no rights a policeman need respect when it comes to altercations: 

here's a ruling from the D.C. Court of Appeals demonstrating just how powerless citizens are when accosted by a police officers—even when the cops themselves are clearly in the wrong….

The appellant is Terrance Crossland, who is asking the court to overturn his conviction on two counts of assaulting a police officer. Last April, Crossland and his cousin were approached by two D.C. Metro officers on patrol "to gather information about a rash of recent shootings and drug sales in the area." Crossland was mowing his grass while smoking a cigarette. The police acknowledge that neither Crossland nor is cousin were doing anything unlawful.  The two men were told to turn around, put their hands against a fence, and submit to a search. By both accounts, Crossland initially complied, then said, "Fuck this shit. I'm tired of this."

Police say Crossland then elbowed one officer in the head, at which point he was punched, taken to the ground, kicked several times, and pepper sprayed. Both the trial court, the appeals court, and even the prosecution acknowledge that because Crossland was doing nothing wrong before the incident, it was illegal for the police to stop, detain, and search him. Nevertheless . . .

 . . . as the trial court recognized, the APO statute "prohibits forceful resistance even if the officer's conduct is unlawful." Dolson v. United States, 948 A.2d 1193, 1202 (D.C. 2008) (explaining that the rationale for this rule is to "deescalate the potential for violence which exists whenever a police officer encounters an individual in the line of duty") . . .

So even if the police illegally stop you, detain you, and beat you, you aren't permitted to resist. Just roll over and take it. Submit.

Balko goes on to explain how Crossland and other witnesses claimed that the elbowing-in-the-head provocation never happened; the courts decided that naturally the police officers' testimony had to be more valid. 

The takeaway:

The dreary lesson from this case….Police need only the flimsiest of suspicions to stop you on the street, detain you, and search you. But even if they don't even have that, they aren't likely to suffer any serious sanction for an illegal search. Nor is a court likely to believe you should you try to complain. If you resist—physically or verbally, whether the search was legal or illegal—they can bring the hammer down, with damn-near impunity. And after the violence, you'll be the one going to jail.

The Reason Balko files on police.