In the Jones v. Commonwealth (Va. 2008) [This is a real case, but the name has been changed. A police officer was patrolling the parking lot of a public housing area, looking for people who were parked there who were not residents of the property. As the office approached the car in which Jones was sitting in the passenger seat, the officer observed that Jones immediately reached across his body towards his left front pants pocket. Jones did not reply when the officer asked him what he was doing. The officer asked Jones to move his hand from his pocket, but Jones persisted. As a result, the officer removed Jones from the car.
Jones told the officer “you can’t search me, but you can pat me down.” The officer immediately patted down the pocket where Jones had extended his hand and felt a large bulge that consisted of what the officer believed were capsules. Based on narcotics training classes and 50 – 60 arrests involving heroin capsules over a 4 ½ year career as a police officer, the officer concluded that he felt heroin capsules. Although the officer conceded in his testimony that over-the-counter drugs (such as Tylenol and Motrin) come in capsules, he also testified that he “had never arrested anybody with Motrin in their pocket.” The trial court found probable cause for the search, and Jones was ultimately convicted, which conviction he appealed.
The Virginia Court of Appeals, in reviewing the totality of the evidence dealing with probable cause held that for a variety of reasons (but not necessarily for all the same reasons given in the trial court) there was probable cause for the search and sustained Jones’ conviction, which Jones appealed to the Virginia Supreme Court.
Assume that you are a justice of the Virginia Supreme Court. You are to give your written opinion (in the form of a research paper) in the format set forth below, as to whether you believe, as a matter of law, whether the police officer had probable cause to conduct the search.
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