State v. Terrell D. Cobbs, 2014AP501-CR, District 2, 12/17/14 (1-judge decision; ineligible for publication); case activity
Police had reasonable suspicion to stop Cobbs and two companions and to conduct the pat-down search of Cobbs during which police discovered, opened, and searched Cobbs’ cigarette box, which contained marijuana.
¶8 … [U]nder the totality of the circumstances, the officers had reasonable suspicion that Cobbs had committed a crime. Within four minutes of receiving information from dispatch that there had been a robbery in the area, [Officer] Schmidt-Quist saw three individuals walking in the same direction that the suspects had been seen walking. The individuals were racially consistent with what dispatch had indicated. One of the individuals was significantly taller than the others, a fact that also matched the information from dispatch. When [Officer] Fanning stopped his squad car to talk to the three people, one fled, raising suspicions about the possibility that the three had something to do with the armed robbery. …. While the description of the suspects given by dispatch did not precisely match the three individuals stopped, … the number of people matched the initial dispatch, they were of the same race as indicated in the dispatch, one was significantly taller than the others[,] and they were the only people out and about in the area almost immediately after the reported robbery. ….
¶9 This freeze of a fluid and uncertain situation is just what is envisioned by Wis. Stat. § 968.24 and Terry [v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968)]. ….
¶12 Under the totality of the circumstances, it was reasonable for [Officer] Pettis to open Cobbs’ cigarette box to check for weapons. Pettis was looking for suspects of an armed robbery. He had already found an unconventional weapon on Cobbs [a large padlock with a shoelace wrapped around the bent portion (¶3)]. Pettis was aware of weapons that could be concealed in a container the size of a cigarette box. Pettis testified that he thought there might be a weapon inside the cigarette box. Regarding Cobbs’ argument that Cobbs was in handcuffs, ultimately Pettis would have had to return the cigarette box to Cobbs, so an inspection to check for weapons was necessary for Pettis’s safety. See [State v.] Limon, [2008 WI App 77,] 312 Wis. 2d 174, ¶¶9, 40[, 751 N.W.2d 877] (upholding conviction after officers searched suspect’s purse for weapons and found cocaine); see also Vaughan v. State, 631 S.E.2d 497, 498, 500 (Ga. Ct. App. 2006) (officers justified in searching small tin for weapons when they had already found other weapons on suspect); Davis v. State, 501 S.E.2d 241, 243-44 (Ga. Ct. App. 1998) (search of cigarette box upheld where officers were concerned that “box could contain a razor blade, needle, or other small weapon”); People v. Salvator, 602 N.E.2d 953, 965 (Ill. App. Ct. 1992) (officer justified in removing flip-top box and examining contents where he testified about his fear that item might be a weapon); Stoker v. State, 170 S.W.3d 807, 813 (Tex. Ct. App. 2005) (search of cigarette box upheld where officer had found a small knife inside a cigarette box during a previous unrelated search).