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Excelsior College Press Release on Traffic Stop Questions

I’m working on a criminal justice discussion question and need an explanation and answer to help me learn.

Part 1

While on routine patrol, Police Officer Stark and his partner Police Officer Jackson observe a vehicle driving with two occupants. The vehicle has what appears to be a temporary license plate. However, the officers are unable to see the expiration date of the temporary license plate as the date is not visible. After a brief discussion, the officers agree that a vehicle stop is warranted.

Upon stopping the vehicle, the driver is clearly agitated and is reluctant to open his window to provide required documentation. At that point, the passenger in the vehicle, also acting in a furtive manner, begins to move and while doing so begins to shift the contents of his pants pocket. Fearing for his safety, PO Jackson instructs the passenger not to move and to step out of the vehicle. The passenger reluctantly steps out of the vehicle where PO Jackson conducts a “pat down” of the passenger for his safety. While patting down the passenger, PO Jackson feels a “bulge” in the pocket of passenger’s pants. Being trained in the recognition of narcotics and their packaging, PO Jackson puts his hand into the pocket of the passenger and removes the narcotics that he finds.

PO Jackson then places the passenger now identified as John Smith into custody. Fearing that Mr. Smith may have secreted additional evidence in the vehicle, PO Jackson searches the “lungeable” area where Mr. Smith was seated. PO Jackson then looks under the seat, moves what appears to be a plastic bag, and finds a revolver, which he takes into custody. The driver of the vehicle is properly identified as Mr. David Conklin. Mr. Conklin is given a summons for an unreadable license plate and released. The passenger, Mr. John Smith is removed to the station house for processing.

Research the following topics related to the scenario:

What level of proof did the officers have to justify their actions?

Did the officers have probable cause to stop the vehicle?

Can the police stop a vehicle based upon a license plate that is unreadable?

  • Can the police ask the passenger to exit the vehicle and conduct a pat down?
  • Can the police search the vehicle, to wit, the area where the passenger was seated?
  • Was the encounter by the police officer legal?
  • What would you have done differently?
  • What could have been done to change the course of the scenario?
  • What are the potential legal issues presented on behalf of the defendant and the police?
  • What potential civil liabilities exist for the officers and/or department based on the actions of the officers?
  • A critical skill in this course is to be able to read existing cases and apply the decisions therein to your work in the field. To help you develop this skill, you must defend your assertions for each scenario using at least two existing cases.
  • Part 2
  • You are the police chief for Officers Stark and Jackson and have been contacted by the media as John Smith’s family has gone to social media in outrage at his arrest. Write a press release that addresses the topics from Part 1.


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