In a recent case before an Arizona court of appeals last month, the defendant asked that the court reconsider an unfavorable verdict from the trial court. Originally, the defendant was convicted of selling or transporting dangerous drugs. On appeal, she argued that the lower court unfairly denied her motion to suppress; because the officers that found drugs in her car did not actually have the right to conduct a traffic stop, she argued, the evidence should not have come in at trial. After reviewing the record of the case, the court of appeals affirmed the original verdict.
Facts of the Case
According to the opinion, investigators had been looking into the defendant and her acquaintance for months, suspecting they were engaged in the sale of dangerous drugs. While the investigators were conducting surveillance, they watched one day as the two individuals loaded their SUV and got on the highway. Because the investigators had been looking into these two people for a while, they did not want to make it obvious that they were following the car or that they suspected there were drugs in the car.
The investigators asked local police officers to conduct something called a “whisper stop”, which is when a law enforcement agency can ask another agency to find an entirely different reason to stop and search a vehicle so that the driver and passengers are not clued into the fact that they are under surveillance. Here, the local police officers received the call that the investigating agency needed a whisper stop, so they followed the car and suspected it was speeding by 5 miles per hour.
The officers stopped the vehicle for speeding and asked the defendant and the driver to exit the car. They found six pounds of methamphetamine, and they charged the individuals accordingly.
The defendant’s case went to trial, and she was found guilty as charged. On appeal, the defendant’s main argument was that the officer conducting the traffic stop could not prove that the car was speeding. According to the defendant, she was going well within the speed limit, and thus the officer’s stop had no basis. If the stop had no basis, then the officer did not have a legal reason to search the car, and the evidence should not have been admissible at trial.
The court looked at the evidence to try and decide if the officer had reason to think the defendant’s car was speeding. According to the court, it was impossible to say one way or the other; the officer did not have a device measuring the defendant’s speed, so it was just one person’s word against the other. In the absence of any evidence, then, the court said it would trust the lower court’s conclusion and find that the officer had reasonable grounds to conclude that the defendant’s car was speeding.
Therefore, said the court, the stop was legal, and the resulting search was valid. The defendant’s motion to suppress was properly denied.
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