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Cop’s Pants-on-the-Ground ‘Wardrobe Assist’ Not an Illegal Search, Court Says

Posted Sep 15, 2010 10:05 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A police officer who pulled up a drug suspect’s baggy pants conducted a “wardrobe assist” rather than a search, a Minnesota appeals court has ruled.

The police officer discovered a gun when she pulled up the pants of suspect Frank Irving Wiggins, according to stories in the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Wiggins’ pants fell to his knees when he raised his hands in the air on police orders.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals allowed the gun evidence, saying there was “incidental contact” but no search by the officer. "She hoisted his pants presumably to conceal rather than to reveal," the opinion (PDF) said.

The suspect had been observed with another man in a car at White Castle when a third man got in the back seat. According to the Star Tribune report, the third man’s hands were “suspiciously slider-free”; he later admitted to police that a plastic bag he dropped to the floor contained “some weed.”

The court's opinion managed to work in a reference to the rap song popularized by a would-be American Idol contestant. "Because judicial holdings are limited by their facts," the opinion said, "we are confident that our opinion will not be misconstrued to suggest that an officer can freely meddle with a person's clothes to the refrain, 'Pants on the ground, pants on the ground,' under the guise of providing public assistance."

The Minneapolis Star Tribune began its story this way: “White Castle, weed and baggy pants. It has all the elements of a comedy, but throw in a concealed handgun, a suspected drug deal and a wardrobe malfunction, and it's a Minnesota Court of Appeals case that even compelled a judge to quote an American Idol audition."

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