Can police remove something that feels like a wallet during a frisk?

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Can police remove something that feels like a wallet during a frisk?

If police are frisking you and they feel something that resembles a wallet inside one of your pockets can they legally reach into your pocket and remove it or would that violate the 4th Amendment?

Asked on April 8, 2016 under Criminal Law, California

Answers:

M.D., Member, California and New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 4 years ago | Contributor

 The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. However, a person's 4th Amendment rights are not violated when a police officer stops a them and frisks them without probable cause to arrest, so long as the police officer has a reasonable suspicion that the person has committed (is committing or is about to commit) a crime and has a reasonable belief that the person "may be armed and...dangerous".
Specifically, an officer for their own protection, may perform a quick surface search of the person’s outer clothing for weapons if they have reasonable suspicion (not just a hunch) that the person stopped is armed. Although, an officer must confine these kinds of searches to the suspect’s outer clothing; they can not go through the person's pockets. However, if the officer feels something like a weapon during the frisk, they can reach into the suspect's clothing and retrieve it. Even if the object isn’t a weapon, a court will consider it to have been lawfully discovered if it reasonably appeared to be a one. Additionally, if an officer feels something during a frisk that obviously isn’t a weapon but is more than likely could be contraband, they can seize it. That having been said, if the officer can’t tell from a frisk what the object is, only that it isn’t a weapon, they can’t explore further.


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