TRENTON, NJ Police officers must feel
endangered or have a firm legal basis to do a body
search, the State Supreme Court said Wednesday, ruling
in two cases.
The first involved Derek Roach, who was stopped by
the police for having a malfunctioning headlight and
an invalid inspection sticker.
Officers had the right to search Mr. Roach's
pockets because he was acting erratically and
repeatedly reached down despite warnings to keep his
hands up, the justices ruled unanimously. The decision
overturned an appellate ruling.
"The officers were faced with a nervous and
intoxicated person who refused to obey their lawful
orders and continued to move his hands toward the
unidentified bulge," Justice Virginia Long wrote.
"That erratic behavior justified the officers' further
action to neutralize any potential threat," the
Inside Mr. Roach's pocket, the police found a
plastic bag stuffed with cocaine and heroin. The
ruling allows Mr. Roach's case to go to trial.
But the court ruled in a second case that unusual
behavior alone was not enough to allow the police to
conduct a full body search on a suspect arrested for