A quick shout out to TTAG contributor and legal eagle Chris Dumm. If Mr. Dumm has a moment, I’d appreciate it if he’d cast his eyes on this story from staho.com. “Marco’s Pizza employees received a call from a customer to order pizza at 48 North West River Road. As the police reported, the manager of the store recognized the voice from the other line as being extremely similar to a criminal’s one, who had robbed a pizza delivery driver before.” Extremely similar’s pretty damn similar, yes? Similar enough it seems. “One of the police officers disguised [himself] as a pizza delivery driver, while other policemen surrounded the house at the given address. In order to hide the gun, they made a hole in the pizza box.” Does that mean the cop was pointing a loaded gun at the suspected perp with his hand in a pizza box? Yeah, that sounds safe. But wait! There’s more!

The police officer announced the pizza delivery arrival and a teenager got out of the house and told him to get inside in order to be paid by a friend of him. As the police officer stated, he refused to get inside the house and invited the suspect to pay for the pizza immediately. While the teenager headed inside the house, the officer disguised as a pizza delivery driver signaled the surrounding officers to take action.

They found another two teenagers in the house. The police officers took the three teens to the police station, keeping them under arrest. They searched the house ad found a loaded gun and eight grams of marijuana. As a consequence of their criminal act and criminal record, the teenagers are now in The Lorain County Boys Detention.

Did I miss the bit where the teen told the faux pizza guy [with a gun in a pizza box] to give him his money? I mean, sure, a loaded gun. Was it a LEGAL loaded gun belonging to the homeowner, perchance? And eight grams of dope? Don’t make me laugh. Or stop me laughing, if you know what I mean.

This does not sound like the kind of police work I admire. Is it even legal? Chris?

9 Responses to Probable Cause? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Probable Cause!

  1. I can pretty much sum up my legal analysis of this clusterfuck in four words:

    Bad cop. No donut.

    Unless there’s something more we haven’t been told about this scenario (a hell of a lot more) this case will result in suppression of all evidence seized, dismissal of all charges, and a big civil lawsuit against the police involved. Unless the call was placed from the same number or address as the prior robbery setup call, or unless the caller sounded amazingly like Patrick Stewart or Yakov Smirnov. What are the odds of that?

    On my lawyer WTF-meter, the biggest problem is the lack of probable cause for the cops to make a warrantless arrest. ‘Probable cause’ exists, and an arrest can be made, when there are sufficient articulable facts to convince an impartial person that a crime has probably been committed or is about to be committed.

    A single tentative voice identification, by a layperson who has only heard the voice once before, at an unspecified time in the past, is just not a reliable identification. Even if it were, it would only be speculation to assume that another crime was about to happen in this scenario.

    This doesn’t prevent the cops from investigating, but they can’t arrest anyone until they have a lot more specific information. There’s nothing intrinsically criminal about inviting the pizza guy inside while your roommate finds the checkbook (we do it all the time, as a measure of courtesy) but this apparently was what triggered the arrest and search.

    This may give the cops a hunch, but it just doesn’t add up to probable cause. As a result, the arrest was illegal and everything that flowed from it (gun, dope, confessions) would get thrown out as the fruits of the illegal search. The Law & Order music would go ‘Cha-Chunk’ right about here…

    Which leaves the cops with nothing, even if Sam McCoy himself is arguing the case. The cops can destroy the dope (the whole puny joint they found), and they can keep the gun if it was stolen, but they can’t use them against the defendants at trial. The defendants, OTOH, will have all the evidence they need in their civil suit against the police for false arrest and violation of their civil rights.

    We want to be safe from armed robbery, but we don’t want to live in a country where you get arrested and your house gets searched just because some pizza manager told the police that your voice “sounded similar to” the voice of somebody who threatened them two years ago. If these actually were bad guys with evil plans, they’ll get a walk and a pile of taxpayers’ money. If they were just dope-smokers with the munchies, they got a hassle they didn’t deserve.

    And then they’ll get a pile of taxpayers’ money.

  2. if the first teen invited the officer in (as seems to be implied, but we don't have the facts to confirm that) and the evidence (either the gun or the pot) were in plain site then it is a valid bust, If not to either of those: Bad cop, no donut

  3. I find this scenario very reminiscent of the one that inspired Rich Davis to develop Second Chance soft, concealable body armor. Rich recognized what he considered to be a distinctive telephone order as identical to the one that had preceded an earlier robbery of his fiancée. He normally would have had his cutdown, NFA-registered 16-gauge shotgun in a pizza box, below the one containing the real pizza but it was being repaired that night. As a result, he ended up taking a non-life-threatening hit from a .25 Auto when he ran out of rounds in his .22 revolver and turned to run.

    I'm not sure what the cops did wrong this time.

  4. I'm all for the 2nd amendment, and this might not be right on the part of the police; but to defend these kids or even bring this up on a website that defends our right owne and carry puts a bad mark on us all. If the gun was owned legal buy an adult resident, why was it left unattended and loaded with teens? 8 grams of weed might not be a big deal, but drinking and firearms don't mix, so why would weed be ok? And what's the problem with the officer concealing a loaded weapon, us CCW permit holders do it everyday? Anyone with common sense could tell that these teens where up to no good. So think before you defend things like this, because it makes valid points you make mute. Defending idiots makes you look like one.

  5. If there was no probably cause or permission for searching the house, the evidence should be thrown out of court. If the gun was legally possessed by the owner, it's not a crime to begin with.

    It sounds as though the cop should have let the kid go back for the money, and if he didn't come out with it, he should have arrested him for ordering a pizza and refusing to pay.

  6. I think its awesome the cops were so helpful to set up a sting for a possible robbery; how ever the part where they enter the house with out probable cause and with a drawn and loaded gun sounds a whole lot like home invasion, which is significantly worse then the original suspected crime of robbery.

    • Did people miss the part about the teen inviting the delivery person/cop into the house? If Marijuana was in plain sight the officer had probable cause to search. I do agree the whole thing seems strange and much more information is needed to make an informed opinion.

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