Recently, a state appellate court issued a hard-to-swallow opinion in an Arizona drug possession case. The case illustrates police officers’ power when conducting a traffic stop, especially while investigating DUI charges.
The Facts of the Case
According to the court’s opinion, two women were leaving a casino by car. A police officer noticed that the vehicle had only one working headlight and pulled the driver over. The defendant, who was the front-seat passenger, sat and waited as the officer conducted the investigation.
Initially, the officer asked if he could search the car. The driver declined, explaining that it was her son’s car. However, the driver allowed the officer to search her purse, where he found nothing. Then, the officer informed the driver that he suspected she was under the influence. He removed the driver, performed field sobriety tests, and determined that she was not impaired.
However, the officer told the driver he thought, “something else is going on here tonight.” The officer told the driver he wasn’t going to take her to jail and that he just wanted her to be honest. After another three minutes passed, the driver allowed the officer to search her backpack, where he found two pipes used to smoke methamphetamine and a scale. The officer then searched the defendant’s purse, finding another pipe and methamphetamine. In total, the traffic stop took nearly 25 minutes.
The driver challenged the traffic stop in a pre-trial motion to suppress but was unsuccessful based on the court’s finding that she consented to the search. The defendant never joined the driver’s motion but instead argued that the officer’s continued investigation after finding no evidence of criminal activity resulted in an unreasonable seizure under Rodriguez v. U.S. The court denied the defendant’s motion, found her guilty, and sentenced her to six years in jail.
The defendant appealed the denial of the driver’s motion to suppress, as well as her own. The court rejected both of the defendant’s claims. First, the court found that, even if the defendant had the legal ability to appeal the denial of the driver’s motion, the lower court properly found that the driver’s consent was validly given.
Second, the court determined that the officer did not impermissibly extend the length of the traffic stop. The court noted that the officer provided several reasons why he thought the two women were engaged in criminal activity, including 1.) the seemingly unusual relationship between the two women, 2.) the high-crime nature of the area, 3.) the distance from their home, 4.) their criminal records, and 5.) their nervous behavior. The court determined that, given the officer’s findings, he was justified in continuing to investigate any possible wrongdoing.
Have You Been Arrested After an Arizona DUI Stop?
Police officers have broad authority to investigate crimes, including Arizona DUI offenses. However, this authority is not without its limits. When officers conduct an illegal traffic stop or extend the length of a stop without a valid reason, any evidence discovered as a result of the stop may be kept out of trial. Attorney James E. Novak is a dedicated Tempe criminal defense attorney with extensive experience handling all types of DUI and drug offenses. He is knowledgeable in the evolving laws that govern these cases and aggressively stands up for his clients’ rights at every stage of the process. To learn more, and to schedule a free consultation, call the Law Office of James E. Novak at 480-413-1499 today.