Court: If you leave ammo in plain sight in your car while you walk around campus in camo, police can search you and your backpack

The Massachusetts Appeals Court today upheld illegal-weapons convictions against a college student found walking around campus with a loaded gun in his backpack after a security guard spotted live rounds and a hunting knife in the console of his Jeep - which was festooned with stickers reading "Kill 'Em All Let God Sort It Out" and "Sniper No Need to Run--You'll Only Die Tired."

Jason Whitehead, at the time a student at Cape Cod Community College, argued that his convictions for carrying a firearm without a license and carrying a firearm on school grounds should be tossed because a Barnstable police officer searched his backpack without a warrant after not finding a gun during a pat frisk - and after he voluntarily produced an FID card for the three rounds of ammunition.

In its ruling, however, the appeals court said the 2012 backpack search was permissible under a Supreme Court ruling that lets police conduct emergency searches to protect themselves or the public.

The court noted the openly viewable rounds and the stickers alone were enough to give security guards and police concern a gunman might be wandering around campus. Whitehead's camo outfit and "aggressive" posture when he walked towards his Jeep when he noticed men with uniforms near it did nothing to reduce the tension:

First, regardless whether the defendant possessed an FID card, there were sufficient articulable facts to create a reasonable suspicion for the patfrisk and search of the backpack. In the wake of school shootings such as occurred at Columbine, Colorado; Santee, California; and Newtown, Connecticut, "we take judicial notice of the actual and potential violence in ... schools," Commonwealth v. Milo M., 433 Mass. 149, 156 (2001), and note the heightened sensitivity of school officials to signs that a student may have brought guns onto school property and might embark on a shooting rampage. See generally G.S. Katzmann (ed.), Securing Our Children's Future: New Approaches to Juvenile Justice and Youth Violence 1-27, 386-414 (2002). The officer observed the presence of three types of ammunition and a hunting knife openly displayed in the defendant's vehicle, the defendant's aggressive posture, his camouflage attire, and the threatening decals on his vehicle. When taken in combination, these facts justify a frisk of both the defendant's person and backpack because a reasonable person in the officer's position would fear for his own safety and that of others on a college campus. Indeed, the presence of ammunition alone gave rise to a reasonable inference that a firearm was also present. ... Based on the presence of the ammunition and the reasonable inference that a gun might be nearby, it was reasonable for Officer Donovan to suspect that his safety and the safety of others at the college were in danger.

The court continues:

The same factors justifying the patfrisk of the defendant's person justified a patdown of the backpack he carried. A rule prohibiting the search of the bag would allow the defendant to leave the scene with a weapon that could be used against the officer as soon as the defendant regained possession of the bag.

Plus, the fact that he was on school grounds gave the officer more of a reason to search - since Massachusetts bans possession of guns or ammo on school or college grounds without permission of school officials, which Whitehead didn't have, the court said.

Finally, as Officer Donovan testified and as the motion judge found, he read the defendant the Miranda rights after he pat frisked him for weapons. As has been noted, after he removed the backpack from the defendant and advised him that he was going to pat frisk it, the defendant suddenly said, "Wait, there is a loaded gun in there." The defendant's admission to having a loaded gun inside his backpack on a college campus prior to the officer's search quite obviously confirmed the validity of the officer's concern for his own safety and the safety of the college community.

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      Comments

      Sniper No Need to Run?

      How do they know that he isn't a sniper? Should the campus cops have shot him before he got tired?

      Or has he unilaterally declared himself to be a good guy with a gun who kill everyone and let God sort them out, instead of a bad guy?

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      Since when are you of all

      By on

      Since when are you of all people for jackbootery by the authorities without due process?

      The police had reasonable cause for a search because of the open and improper storage. Which is quite far from a reason to follow Judge Dread on the spot sentencing.

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      Whut?

      He got his due process.

      I'm just trying to figure out why the idiot in question thought that he could declare himself immune from suspicion of being a potential sniper/terrorist himself, through use of bumper stickers claiming that his guns were to fight terror or snipers.

      But, hey, strawman projection is like 3-d printing these days.

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      Double standards?

      By on

      Urban thugs get gun charges tossed through illegal search defense all the time, why can't this moron try as well?

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      There are two questions here:

      By on

      There are two questions here: First, should the cops have searched him? Sure, according to most people. Second, should anything resulting from the search be allowed in court? No, in my opinion.

      There are two levels of "bad searches" by cops. The low bar is whether a search crosses 4th amendment protections, meaning anything found should not be used in court. The high bar is where a search is damaging to the point that the police are liable for damages. It sounds like this search is between those two bars.

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      What you mean is

      By on

      What you mean is "irresponsible, law-breaking, non-violent gun owner". AKA "Dumbass".

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      Responsible?

      Not hardly. Had he been responsible, he wouldn't have been searched. Without the visible live rounds, I doubt that the bumper stickers alone would have been justification.

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      I didn't realize having

      By on

      I didn't realize having visible ammunition in your car was "irresponsible." The guy didn't hurt anyone, near as anyone can tell he had no intention of hurting anyone. Only thing this guy was guilty of was bad taste in bumper stickers, and exercising his 2nd amendment rights in a state that subjectively denies them to most people.

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      You people with your

      By on

      You people with your 'community' and 'rules'. Another case of out of control government violating our 11th Commandment 2nd Amendment right to carry a gun anywhere, anytime dammit! 'Murica!

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      Prior arrests for robbery, assault

      By on

      From Cape Cod Online:

      During his booking Monday, Whitehead told officers he was worried about his safety and that of his family and mentioned the Mayan calendar, according to a Barnstable police report.

      And

      The gun belonged to Whitehead's mother, police said.

      Finally

      Whitehead was arrested in 2007 after police found knives, brass knuckles and a semi-automatic airsoft pistol in a van he was driving in the parking lot at Cape Cod Mall.

      He had been arrested only three days earlier in connection with a robbery at the Yarmouthport Village Store.

      Whitehead admitted sufficient facts to carrying a dangerous weapon, assault, breaking and entering in the daytime to commit a felony, larceny from a building and malicious destruction of property of more than $250. The case was continued without a finding for two years and Whitehead was ordered to perform 25 hours of community service.

      Framers of the Constitution definitely had people like this in mind when drawing up that bit about a well-regulated militia.

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      Yep if everyone is armed and

      By on

      Yep if everyone is armed and well practiced as an ad hoc militia than one crazy guy can't do much harm before being stopped by the militia.

      Remember back in the day there were no "police". Everyone was expected to help the local constable in his duties or as part of the common defense.

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      Talk of arming everyone is

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      Talk of arming everyone is just as crazy as talk of disarming everyone. I'm sure if you were to ask him, he would claim HE'S the militia your talking about, and that YOU pose a threat to his 'way of life'.

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