Saturday, March 14, 2009

A tool box and a four-wheeler is not probable cause to search

Alex McCauley won in State v. Rodriguez, Case No. 100,626 (March 13, 2009)(unpublished), affirming Judge Bornholdt's suppression of evidence in a prosecution for possession of marijuana with intent to sell and failure to have a tax stamp. The case involved the stop of a pickup truck on I-35, after the officer first noticed the “suspicious” truck in the parking lot of a nearby La Quinta Inn.

On appeal, the state claimed that the officer had probable cause to search the pickup truck after the traffic stop based upon: (1) the presence of a secured wooden box in the bed of the truck, (2) discrepancies in statements made by Mr. Rodriguez when the officer first noticed the truck (and confronted Rodriguez in the parking lot of the La Quinta Inn), (3) traveling from known drug source cities, and (4) Bilbao-Martinez's (the driver’s) nervousness. The state did not brief other factors raised before the district court. The state also did not challenge Judge Bornholdt’s finding that the consent to search, which was obtained from the driver, who did not speak English, was invalid.

The COA held that there was substantial competent evidence to support the district court’s suppression of the evidence. The COA stated that having a secured box in the bed of a pickup truck does not give probable cause to search. The court stressed that the wooden box was not a “hidden compartment,” but rather, it was obvious to anyone who viewed the truck. Similarly, the COA stated that Mr. Rodriguez’s statements were not inconsistent. The COA also noted that traveling from a known drug source city is not enough to give probable cause to search. The court finally stated that the nervousness of the driver was not even sufficient to give reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.

[Update: the state filed a PR on April 13, 2009.]

[Further update: the KSC denied the state's PR and the mandate issued on January 11, 2010.}

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