The following case study presents issues related to various levels of police encounters with a suspect and potential criminal evidence and the legal justification required for those encounters.
Officer Smith is on routine night time patrol when she notices the vehicle in front of her appears to have a broken taillight which appears to be covered with colored tape. She directs the driver to pull the car to the side of the road. The car is an older model gold Pontiac and as Officer Smith walks to the driver-side of the vehicle, she remembers that a car fitting this general description was the suspected car in a recent road side killing of a fellow police officer. Wanting to make sure that she is safe, Officer Smith asks the female driver to step out of her vehicle for a brief pat-down for weapons. She pats her down and finding no weapons, Officer Smith asks the driver to have a seat back inside her vehicle. Officer Smith then asks the driver for her driver’s license and registration. Instead of providing her driver’s license and registration, the driver speeds away resulting in a high speed chase. The chase ends when the fleeing car hits a telephone pole and crashes.
Concerned that the car may ignite in flames from a leaking gas tank, Officer Smith removes the unconscious woman to a safe distance from the vehicle. Officer Smith returns to the vehicle to locate the driver’s purse for identification. As she enters the vehicle, Officer Smith notices the glove compartment has popped open and that underneath some documents is a gun which she retrieves. Officer Smith also retrieves the driver’s purse from the floor on the passenger side of the vehicle. Officer Smith opens the purse to get the woman’s identification and finds what appears to be a baggie of marijuana. It is later determined that this vehicle was not the car involved in the shooting death of the fellow officer. It is also later determined that the taillight was not broken.
Please answer the following questions explaining your answer in detail by analyzing the facts presented and other factors you consider relevant; defining and explaining key legal terms; and citing legal authority (your text and other legal authority) to support your conclusions in a 2-3 page paper (excluding the title page and reference page):
Did Officer Smith have reasonable suspicion to make the initial stop of this vehicle?
Was the “pat-down” of the driver legal?
Did exigent circumstances exist for Officer Smith to give chase to this vehicle?
Was the gun in “plain view” and legally obtained?
Will the marijuana baggie be admissible evidence?
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