In my last two postings, we have been discussing the arrest of unfortunate gent who was pulled over, contraband was allegedly found in his car and he turned out to be someone other than he said he was. He was, by the way, someone with an outstanding warrant hanging over his head and someone we hereinafter refer to as the “Defendant”. The case is from the Salem News .
We have been focussing on the criminal procedure aspect of the case. Namely, a potential motion to suppress in the case to prevent the Commonwealth from prosecuting this case.
Attorney Sam’s Take On Search, Seizure And Car Stops
Now, understand that we are simply going off the article here and we are giving full faith and credit to the facts alleged therein. The article is based upon what law enforcement says happened which means that, for this blog, we must presume that those facts are the truth.
As any regular reader to this blog knows, a motion to suppress has nothing to do with guilt or innocence. Like us, the court generally takes the Commonwealth’s version of the facts as true. The issues in a motion to suppress are fairly limited.
In this case, if the police had no right to stop the car, then everything that happened because of that stop is suppressed, which means the Commonwealth cannot present it as evidence. In short, if the car stop itself goes…so goes the case. Out the proverbial window.
We discussed the evidence the Commonwealth will likely use to justify the stop on the first part of this story on October 28th.
I told you that what I listed may or may not have been enough to justify the car stop. Part of this depends on what took place long before the Defendant even came to the location at issue. Often, we hear that the location was under investigation because of community complaints of drug dealing going on there. Sometimes, it has been a location where many drug arrests have already taken place.
This history, although it has nothing to do with the Defendant, can be combined with the “suspicious behavior” we’ve already discussed. Depending on the degree of complaints and arrests, this is often taken very seriously into account by the court. It is therefore important, before a hearing on the motion to suppress, for defense counsel to find out what she can about the history of the location in discovery.
Let’s assume the court has no problem with the car stop. The next issue is going to be how the officers were able to go into the car to find what they allegedly found.
Clearly, having stopped the car, they have enough to talk to the Defendant and, at least, ask for license and registration. However, the next thing we know from the article is that the Defendant is apparently out of the car.
How that took place will determine the next step. Key here is the wires, unusual wear on the console and plastic shavings on the SUV’s floor that officers observed. If the police saw those from the outside of the vehicle, or in some way voluntarily by the Defendant, then they are fair game. However, if they were hidden, then there is a real question as to whether everything at that point and after needs to be suppressed.
The important point is where the officers were when they saw the compartment…and why.
Now, if the police learned from running the license and registration that the Defendant was actually the subject of a default warrant, then they would have had enough to arrest him. Once arresting him, they would get to search the car because, since there was no other licensed driver with the Defendant, the police would take custody of the vehicle. Once they do that, law enforcement has the right to do what is called an “inventory search” of the vehicle.
That places them at a lawful vantage point to discover the compartment and material inside. Once the dog comes, of course, more is added to their reason to believe there is contraband there and, whether the police seek a warrant (to be on the safe side) or not, they have more evidence to argue that they were entitled to search the vehicle.
When the court rules on a motion to suppress, the court weighs the evidence in the light most favorable to the Commonwealth. You might think that this means that the Commonwealth always prevails in these hearings.
I can tell you from experience…not always. We have won several.
Just another reason that, if you find yourself in this or any other similar situation, you want to retain the services of an experienced criminal defense attorney at the earliest possible moment.