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White Castle, weed and baggy pants. It has all the elements of a comedy, but throw in a concealed handgun, a suspected drug deal and a wardrobe malfunction, and it's a Minnesota Court of Appeals case that even compelled a judge to quote an "American Idol" audition. St. Paul police officer Kara Breci and her partner spotted a possible drug deal in a car at a White Castle parking lot in November 2008. They ordered the men out of their vehicle and told them to put their hands in the air. That's when suspect Frank Irving Wiggins' baggy pants, already dangerously low at the knees, fell to the pavement.
Breci hoisted the jeans and found a .38-caliber pistol inside the front pocket. Wiggins was eventually convicted of possession of a firearm by an ineligible person and sentenced to five years in prison. He challenged the legality of the pants-hoisting, with the case ultimately landing at the state Court of Appeals. "This case requires us to determine the constitutionality of a novel police procedure which, as far as we can tell, has never been reviewed on appeal by this court or any other," wrote Judge Kevin G. Ross in an opinion filed Tuesday.
The judge wrote that Breci's actions weren't a search, but "incidental contact." "Perhaps [Breci] decided to raise Wiggins' pants to afford him a bit of dignity regardless of her planned search," Ross wrote in the opinion. "Or perhaps she wanted to avoid the risk of contacting his genitalia through his underwear during her pat-search." Breci's actions were intended to provide Wiggins with privacy, not deprive him of it, as a search would, Ross wrote. "We acknowledge that one might be offended by an officer's realigning of his pants: It is the sort of thing that one usually prefers to do for himself," the decision read. "Wiggins argues that affirming the district court would encourage officers to trample the privacy of young people who participate in this baggy-pants fashion trend. The concern is unwarranted.