You’re a St. Paul cop and, suspecting drug dealing, you order those in a car parked in a White Castle parking lot out of the car. You tell a passenger to raise his hands and when he does, his pants fall down to his knees. When you pull his pants up, you feel a gun in his pocket. Is it an illegal search?
It happened and today the Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled that Frank Wiggins — he of the questionable fashion — is out of luck; it wasn’t a search at all.
The court wrote in an opinion published today:
The district court found that the contact that revealed the gun was not a search at all. It described the officer’s conduct as “an accidental finding of a gun as she’s trying to help him get his pants into a decent position.” The description fits.
“Fits.” Get it? A little judicial humor for our benefit, perhaps.
The court said the circumstances in which the gun was seized was not a search:
As a result of the lawful seizure and the officer’s specific directions, which effectively prevented Wiggins from holding his own pants up or raising them, Wiggins was standing in a public parking lot on a busy St. Paul street with his hands high in the air and his pants drooping at his knees. Even assuming that Wiggins intended his pants to sag somewhat, the district court aptly construed the knee-level positioning as “extreme.” The record indicates that the officer had decided to conduct a pat-search but that before beginning she wanted to hoist Wiggins’s pants. She did not testify about her motive. Perhaps she decided to raise Wiggins’s pants to afford him a bit of dignity regardless of her planned search. Or perhaps she wanted to avoid the risk of contacting his genitalia through his underwear during her pat-search. Either way, we agree with the district court that the officer’s incidental contact with the gun while lifting Wiggins’s pants on decency grounds was not a search.
At which point Judge Kevin Ross went the poetry route:
She hoisted his pants presumably to conceal rather than to reveal.
It gets better…
Because judicial holdings are limited by their facts, we are confident that our opinion will not be misconstrued to suggest that an officer can freely meddle with a person’s clothes to the refrain, “Pants on the ground, pants on the ground” under the guise of providing public assistance.
There are a few other cleverly-hidden puns in the opinion.
Sadly, Judge Ross declined MPR’s invitation to talk to us.