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Pat-down on An Overdose Suspect

Can you patdown an overdose suspect?

This question comes from an officer in Wisconsin. The officer says, “You respond and revive a suspected overdose patient. Can you conduct a patdown prior to them being transported by EMS? This is for the safety of the staff, due to drug abusers commonly carrying tools related to their abuse, including needles and sometimes weapons to protect themselves when they go to buy these narcotics and so forth .”

I think the answer is “Yes.”

Now let’s walk through this. If the person is going to the hospital as a civil commitment, well, that is a quasi-arrest. And it’s very easy for courts to uphold a search incident to arrest, even though it’s not for criminality, necessarily. They’re not going to jail, they’re going into the hospital.

But if that’s a civil commitment, then basically the state is in one way or another, taking custody of that person for their own protection.

Alternatively, if they’re just going there on their own accord, then cops can still do a patdown if they believe that the person is armed and dangerous. We don’t necessarily need a detention, like in the Terry versus Ohio kind of sense.

One case that that kind of illustrates this is a case from Illinois, The People versus Evans. And the takeaway here is that the court basically said,

“Police may conduct a Terry frisk during a consensual encounter, upon developing reasonable suspicion that the citizen is armed the dangerous. They also need not develop reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.”

I guess the point, though, is that if you believe that this person could be a danger to other people, then why should police be handcuffed from making that person safe while they’re engaging with medical staff? So this is not quite a consensual encounter, but in many ways, it kind of is.

The last thing is, you have to articulate it. I’m not going to tell you that you can patdown everybody taking a ride in the ambulance. But I think the articulation is good here. If you believe that this person could have dangerous items that could poke, stick, transmit diseases and so forth on their person, I think the courts are going to uphold patting the person down for the safety of the medical staff rendering aid.

Keep the questions coming. I hope this has helped you get it right. Until next time, my friends stay safe.


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