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Man who swore at cop while carrying 25 bags of crack shouldn’t have been arrested, state court rules

Posted Feb 8, 2013 3:15 PM CDT
By Stephanie Francis Ward

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Using profanities during a verbal altercation with law enforcement wasn't enough for a disorderly conduct arrest, the New York State Court of Appeals found Thursday. Based on the wrongful arrest, the opinion overturned a criminal possession conviction against a Rochester, N.Y., man, who approached a cop and swore at him while carrying 25 bags of crack cocaine.

Police found the drugs on Trevis Baker when they arrested him, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reports. He pleaded guilty to criminal possession after a lower court denied a defense motion to suppress the drug evidence. Timothy Davis, Baker’s lawyer, said the profanity was “the F-Word,” and variations of it, the paper reports.

Baker’s behavior was videotaped by his girlfriend and used as government evidence at the suppression hearing. He accused the officer of harassment, according to the opinion, after the officer ran a license plate check of a vehicle parked in the girlfriend's driveway. The vehicle was a Cadillac, according to the opinion, and the plates were issued for a Toyota.

The opinion (PDF) notes that Baker made the comments in daylight, on a public street, and the exchange lasted about 15 seconds. Nothing in the record, according to the court, indicates that the officer feared for his safety.

“We do not suggest that the public harm element can never be present in such encounters,” the opinion states. “But isolated statements using coarse language to criticize the actions of a police officer, unaccompanied by provocative acts or other aggravating circumstances, will rarely afford a sufficient basis to infer the presence of the ‘public harm’ mens rea necessary to support a disorderly conduct charge.”

Hat tip to How Appealing.

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