(Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

Arizona Supreme Court overturns weed conviction of man frisked by cops

PHOENIX — The Arizona Supreme Court says police can’t frisk people just because they’re in a high-crime neighborhood and with somebody else who runs off when police approach.

The unanimous decision issued Tuesday by the state high court overturns two lower court rulings and erases a man’s misdemeanor marijuana possession conviction because pot used as evidence wasn’t legally discovered.

Phoenix police looking for a suspect did a pat-down of Anthony Primous as he talked with three other men and sat with an infant on his lap. One of the four men ran off but none was the suspect being sought.

According to the decision, the pat-down of Primous violated his Fourth Amendment privacy rights because he hadn’t said or done anything indicating he was a possible threat to police.

A person’s individual circumstances, not a neighborhood or the actions of another, determine whether police can frisk someone, Justice Clint Bolick wrote for the court.

“Here, Primous and his companions were engaged in no apparent concerted action other than conversation,” the ruling said.

“This rule amply protects law-abiding residents of high-crime neighborhoods from being searched solely because of their surroundings,” Bolick wrote.

He said the decision reaffirms a 2014 decision by the Arizona high court and tracks previous rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Arizona justices said they agreed to rule on Primous’ case because identifying circumstances that may justify pat-downs “involves recurring legal issues of statewide importance.”