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Heroin Conviction Reversed: Illegal Search & Seizure

United States v. Brown, Docket: 19-50250, Opinion Date: May 12, 2021. The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's denial of defendant's motion to suppress the fruits of a search of his pocket and his subsequent conviction for possession of 35.35 grams of heroin with intent to distribute. The panel concluded that the officers complied with Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), and its progeny in all respects except one: in conducting the limited protective search for weapons that Terry authorizes, the officer here did not perform any patdown or other initial limited intrusion but instead proceeded directly to extract and examine an item in defendant's pocket. The panel concluded that, under Sibron v. New York, 392 U.S. 40 (1968)—a companion case to Terry that was decided the same day—the officer's search of defendant's pocket exceeded the limited scope of what Terry permits and was therefore unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.


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