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Police Properly Frisked A Subject After He Voluntarily Handed Over Two Knives, Court Of Appeals Holds

MADISON - This morning, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals reversed a Sheboygan County Circuit Court order that suppressed bags of marijuana seized from Aaron E. Applewhite by Sheboygan Police Department officers during a pat-down ("frisk") search. The circuit court suppressed the evidence after concluding that, once Applewhite voluntarily produced two knives that he was carrying, police had no reason to believe that Applewhite continued to be armed and presently dangerous.


"There's no two-knife limit on the streets," said Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen. "The officers acted reasonably when they frisked Applewhite for additional weapons. Today's decision is a victory for officer safety and public safety."


Van Hollen explained: "Officers may pat down a person's clothing if they have a reasonable suspicion that the person is armed. Here, Applewhite had already handed over two knives. It was reasonable for the officers to believe Applewhite was carrying other weapons."


According to allegations made in the criminal complaint and testimony taken at a preliminary examination, Sheboygan police received a report of a possible burglary and encountered Applewhite at the scene. Police questioned Applewhite and asked whether he was carrying any weapons. Applewhite voluntarily produced two knives from his pocket, a retractable box cutter and a switchblade knife. Police then frisked Applewhite and discovered the marijuana. The court of appeals concluded that, under the totality of the circumstances, police were justified in conducting the frisk for additional weapons. When the officer touched the bags through Applewhite's clothing, he recognized them as possible contraband and seized them under the "plain touch" exception to the Fourth Amendment warrant requirement.


Today's decision and opinion of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals may be found at the court's website:


Applewhite faces various criminal charges stemming from the seizure of the marijuana. The charges were brought by the Sheboygan County District Attorney's Office. This is a pretrial appeal. Applewhite enjoys a presumption of innocence, and the State will be required to prove his guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at any resulting trial.


The State of Wisconsin is represented in Sheboygan County Circuit Court by the Sheboygan County District Attorney's Office. Assistant Attorney General Michael C. Sanders represented the State in the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.