A defendant who failed to laugh when a cop asked him whether he had "firearms, drugs, cats, dogs, alligators, and weapons" in his vehicle was detained; the officer claimed that this was cause for reasonable suspicion. It wasn't, a Pennsylvania court ruled last week.
As quoted by Fourthamendment.com, citing United States v. Holloway, 2023 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 187752 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 18, 2023):
Officer Smart testified that he regularly asks individuals a question concerning possession of "firearms, drugs, cats, dogs, alligators, and weapons" at vehicle stops because it "helps [him] read people's body language and their demeanor." … He further testified that he was trained by other officers to infer that an individual who does not laugh at such a question is nervous about either firearms or narcotics … and that he typically receives a "laughing response" to that question …. While courts "do give considerable deference to police officers' determinations of reasonable suspicion, … courts do not owe them blind deference." United States v. Alvin, 701 F. App'x 151, 156 (3d Cir. 2017) (internal quotations omitted). The Court does not find that laughing at a law enforcement officer while being questioned about drugs and weapons would be an appropriate response. Moreover, failing to laugh at a bizarre question while being questioned about drugs and weapons does not create reasonable suspicion to remove an individual from a car after a traffic violation.
Don't laugh at the joke? Reasonable suspicion. Laugh at the joke? From another case apparently featuring the same cop, that's reasonable suspicion as well.
When Officer Smart returned to the driver's side window, he asked Ross whether there were any "firearms in the vehicle, narcotics, specifically heroin, crack, marijuana, cats and dogs." Ross looked straight ahead, paused, and then "kind of giggled and said no." Officer Smart observed that Ross continued to appear very nervous and continued to reach towards the center console and move his jacket around. The backup officer arrived soon thereafter. Officers Smart and Foreman had become sufficiently concerned that Ross might be armed as a result of their observations and interactions with Ross that they then asked Ross to exit the vehicle.
A stupid power game, and the officer played it until someone was willing to pay what it took to win—and there's nothing in any of this to stop Officer Smart playing it again.
P.S. it's wild that you can't just look up this case online without paying $30 to PACER, and PACER is so rudimentary and broken you can't even link to it. What a rip-off!