In the past, the U.S. Supreme Court has taken a dim view of the idea of "guilt by association." And earlier this month, an appeals court here in Washington tossed out a conviction because police had embraced that point of view.
The original case was from a series of events that occurred on October 2, 2011. Tacoma police received a 911 call about a shirtless black man carrying a gun in a playfield. As police responded, they were told that witnesses saw the man get into a gray coupe which headed for a specific intersection in the city.
When the cops arrived at the playfield, they didn't see any gunmen but did see two teenage girls. They proceeded to the intersection where they were told the man might be heading - and saw those same two girls once again. The teens were sitting in the back seat of an idling sedan, and two black males were in the front seat.
The policemen ordered everyone out of the car and searched it for guns, but only found marijuana on one of the men. Neither male matched the description of the "shirtless gunmen." Nevertheless, the man was found guilty of marijuana possession.
The offender decided to appeal his conviction on the grounds that the police violated his Fourth Amendment rights by conducting an unlawful search, and that the pot evidence should be suppressed because it was found during that search. Since the only reason the policemen searched the vehicle was because they saw the two girls in it, the appeals court overturned the man's conviction. After all, he was only searched because he was "associated" with the two girls - which is why he won his appeal.