Street arrests for drug offenses in California must meet certain constitutional standards. Before an officer can stop an individual on a public street the officer must have what is called a reasonable suspicion. That requirement is less demanding than the probable cause required to make an arrest or obtain a search warrant. Therefore, if there is reasonable suspicion of criminal activity sufficient to authorize a proper "stop and frisk," and if drugs are found during a superficial frisk for weapons, a drug possession charge will possibly meet constitutional muster.
The question that usually arises is whether the officer did in fact have reasonable suspicion to make the stop in the first place. If so, then a minimal interrogation and frisk of the body for weapons is allowed. Whether reasonable suspicion existed may depend on the officer's prior experience on the streets, and on a review of the case law to see what the courts decided under similar fact situations.
A recent street arrest in San Rafael exemplifies the issue. At about 7 p.m. on Sept. 22, a patrol officer observed a man remove a metal object from under his shirt. It was tied to a rope and apparently being worn like a necklace. The officer believed that the item was a curved blade and decided to make a stop to investigate whether it was a concealed weapon. In the process of making what is described as a search, the officer allegedly found suspected methamphetamine, a hypo needle, and pills without a prescription.
The 24-year-old man was booked on drug possession charges pursuant to California law and is being held in lieu of $5,000 bail. The question of whether there was reasonable suspicion could be argued either way. However, if the item on his neck was simply a piece of metal jewelry, then there may have in fact been a lack of reasonable suspicion. That would make the ensuing search improper and the evidence would be declared inadmissible pursuant to a motion to suppress.
Source: marinij.com, "Sausalito man arrested on drug allegations in San Rafael", , Sept. 24, 2014