Legally Frisked

Before I get this post started, I need to say that I am a paralegal and by law, I cannot give legal advice. This post is merely to explain the law and does not constitute legal advice.  Check out the other posts in my Legally series in the archives.

Back in 2004, rapper Jay Z released probably one of his most famous tracks “99 Problems”. The song has been played endlessly for the last fifteen years and I have also heard it parodied and the hook used to create one-liner jokes. Obama even cracked a joke at Jay Z’s expense using the line “I have 99 Problems and now Jay Z is one”. The song is about all of the obstacles in Jay Z’s life (which he emphatically states that a woman is not one of them). He deals with fame, critics, racism, and people getting in his face among other things. He does not go on to name all 99 of his problems but he does tell the story of getting pulled over by a racist cop. This is actually based on an event that happened in 1994, way before he was famous for rapping, headphones, and being Beyonce’s husband. In all honesty, this is a quick little summary of a research paper written by Caleb Mason, a law professor at Southwestern University so I cannot take much of the credit.

Jay Z explains in the song how the incident went down. He was driving in his car with drugs in his trunk and, although it is not specifically claimed, probably a gun in the glove box. He hears a siren behind him and the telltale flashing lights of a police car are in his rearview mirror. Now, he knows he is in trouble because he has all of this illegal contraband and he is a black man in 1994. This is three years removed from the Rodney King beating and the LA Riots that followed. Not only is the LAPD proven to be racist, but they are also violent towards people of color. He gives himself two choices. He can stop and deal with it, knowing that if he does get arrested, he has some money to hire an attorney. The other choice would be to floor it and try and get away. Deciding that a police chase is too risky and too much of a hassle, he pulls over.

The cop sidles up to Jay Z’s car and asks him if he knows what he pulled him over for. Jay Z asks the cop if it is because he is young and black and dresses like a gangster. He asks the cop what the actual reason is. He assumes that he has been pulled over for Driving While Black and asks if he is under arrest. The cop says that he was driving 55 in a 54. Any experienced driver knows that a cop will not pull over somebody for driving one mile per hour over the speed limit. That is a joke. The cop asks Jay if he has a gun because he knows ‘a lot of you are”. Jay does not fall for the obvious ploy and points out that his license and registration are legit and asks if there is anything else. The cop asks to look around the car. Jay tells him that his glove box and trunk are locked and that he will need a warrant to search them. The cop, defeated, claims he is going to bring in a K-9 unit.

This segment of the song is in reference to notorious laws such as Stop and Frisk which were used along with racial profiling to harass black people for a long time. Thankfully, most of those laws have been abolished now. The main question here is “When can a traffic stop be used to search for drugs?” This is a Fourth Amendment question because that amendment guides law enforcement on search and seizure. The first important thing here is that Jay Z acted correctly in submitting to the police officer’s authority by pulling over. This preserved his 4th Amendment rights. He also correctly said that he didn’t know why the cop pulled him over, not giving the cop any more ammunition later in court. By law, the cop was within the rules to pull somebody over for going even one mile per hour above the speed limit even if that is suspect.

Jay Z’s first error is refusing to step out of the car when asked. That request is well within the rules laid out by the Fourth Amendment. Jay Z also basically gives the cop permission to search the vehicle, secure in the knowledge that the two bad spots are locked up. He did not have to give this consent. Usually, when cops ask for your consent for a search it is because they need it to continue. Also, no warrant is required to search a car during a traffic stop. Searches can happen if there is any probable cause and probable cause covers a lot of ground. Additionally, locking any part of your car will not prevent cops from legally searching it. They will just unlock it and continue. Finally, the cop calls in a dog whose search does not require probable cause and bypasses a lot of Fourth Amendment privacy concerns.

I hope that this educated you in a small part and that you learned a little from this trip into the law with me.

(Written on 4/7/19)

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

One Response to “Legally Frisked”

  1. rolandclarke Says:

    Invaluable even if I no longer drive.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: