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Possession Conviction Reversed Due to Improper Search


The United States Constitution protects you from illegal searches and seizures. Even though this is one of your fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution, many people are subjected to this illegal practice every day. You are probably wondering happens if you are subjected to an illegal search:

  • Evidence obtained from an illegal search will be excluded from the trial and cannot be used against you.
  • Also, you can receive money damages if the appropriate.

Assume that while you are sitting in your house one afternoon, without knocking or obtaining any warrant, the police break down your front door and conduct a warrantless search in your house for drugs.

During the search, the police find marijuana in your house and arrest you. You are incarcerated for two months following your arrest. In this hypothetical, since the search is illegal, the state could not use the marijuana found in your house as evidence to prosecute you. Also, you could receive money damages since damage was done to your property and money damages to compensate for the time you were incarcerated and missed work.

In a case arising of out Tallapoosa County, Alabama, Rice v. State of Alabama, an individual was subjected to an illegal search.

Here, James Rice, Jr. (“Rice”) was charged with possession of controlled substance- cocaine. He filed a motion to suppress evidence of cocaine due to being improperly searched. At the suppression hearing, Detective George Long (“Detective Long”) with the Alexander City Police Department testified that he saw Rice back his vehicle through a four-way stop intersection.

Detective Long testified that after pulling Rice over for the traffic violation that Rice appeared very nervous and noticed his hands shaking. Due to the abnormal behavior, Detective Long asked Rice to step out of his car and completed a patdown search.

Amidst the patdown search, Detective Long discovered half a dollar-sized bag of cocaine in Rice’s front pocket. At the hearing, Detective Long acknowledged that, but for Rice’s nervous demeanor, he had no reason to suspect that Rice was armed and dangerous.

The trial court denied the motion to suppress, and Rice plead guilty to the controlled substance charge. Rice’s appeal was based on the notion that Detective Long lacked the reasonable suspicion to conduct a patdown search on Rice that led to the discovery of the cocaine; therefore, the evidence that was received from this illegal search should be excluded.

In order to conduct a patdown search of a person, an officer must have reasonable suspicion. Reasonable suspicion standard requires the detaining officer to have a suspicion that criminal activity is afoot; the suspicion must also be reasonable. Meaning, the detaining officer needs articulable facts that demonstrate why he believes criminal activity is taking place and must be more than a mere hunch. Furthermore, the court can dive into the experience and training of the detaining officer in question to determine if the suspicion was reasonable or not.

The appellate court began by looking at State v. Odom, in which the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals held that when reviewing if an officer had reasonable suspicion for a patdown search, courts must look the totality of the circumstances to determine if the detaining officer had a particularized and objective basis for suspecting wrongdoing. State v. Odom, 872 So. 2d 887 (Ala. Crim. App. 2003).

The Court of Criminal Appeals pointed out the fact that nervousness in the presence of an officer does not establish reasonable suspicion that a person was engaged in criminal activity. See State v. Washington, 623 So. 2d 392 (Ala. Crim. App. 1993). The appellate court stated that Detective Long’s search was on the basis of an unparticularized suspicion, commonly referred to as a hunch. See Grantham v. City of Tuscaloosa, 111 So. 3d 174 (Ala. Crim. App. 2012).

The Criminal Court of Appeals harped on the fact that the main reasoning for allowing patdown searches is not to discover evidence of a crime but for the safety of officers. Therefore, since Detective Long testified that his sole reasoning for stopping Rice was because of his nervous demeanor, the search exceeded its permissible boundaries and the trial court erred in not suppressing the evidence of the search.

Defeating an improper search is difficult and nearly impossible without the help or advice of legal counsel.

If you are facing a criminal charge or believe that your constitutional rights have been violated, consult an attorney who is well versed in criminal law to guarantee that your rights have not been infringed on.

Contact criminal attorney Joseph A. Ingram at (205) 335-2640.

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