7/15/2013Nevada Supreme Court Overturns Traffic Stop From Questionable Cop
First of three questionable traffic stops by troubled Nevada highway patrolman overturned by state supreme court.
The Nevada Supreme Court on Wednesday threw out a traffic stop performed by a state trooper caught lying in a job application in a way that "would have been enough to result in his termination." The justices unanimously ruled that Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Richard Pickers was in the wrong on November 1, 2009 when he searched Kent J. Beckman's car without a warrant.
That morning, Trooper Pickers accused Beckman of driving 72 MPH in a 65 MPH zone on Interstate 80. As he ran a check on Beckman's license and registration, Trooper Pickers told his partner that he suspected criminal activity because there were fingerprints on the trunk of Beckman's car. He asked for a drug dog to be sent out. After the papers turned out to be in order, Trooper Pickers returned them and handed Beckman a warning.
"Everything checks good," Trooper Pickers said. "Be careful, it's a long drive."
Before Beckman could leave, however, Trooper Pickers asked him whether he could search his vehicle. Beckman refused, so he was told he was no longer free to leave and that he would have to wait for the drug dog to arrive. The dog alerted and a search of the vehicle turned up cocaine and methamphetamine. This evidence was found to be unlawfully obtained after the justices found Trooper Pickering unlawfully extended the duration of the initial traffic stop based based on a flimsy pretense.
"The totality of the circumstances here would not cause a prudent person to have an honest or strong suspicion that Beckman had committed a crime," Chief Justice Kristina Pickering wrote for the court. "Although criminals may frequently check contraband in their trunks, many law-abiding citizens also routinely utilize their trunks for non-suspect reasons, such as hauling groceries (or in Beckman's case, wine)."
Because of the intrusive nature of the search, the court said it was appropriate to suppress the evidence from the extended seizure.
"For these reasons we conclude as a matter of law that Trooper Pickers unreasonably seized Beckman's person in violation of the United States and Nevada Constitutions before the canine sniff and warrantless search ever occurred," Justice Pickering wrote. "The government cannot benefit from evidence that officers obtained through a clear violation of an individual's Fourth Amendment rights."
The court noted other questionable drug dog searches involving Trooper Pickers are pending before the court. Jethro Lloyd's car was searched without a warrant, even though it was parked and, according to a district court ruling, there were no exigent circumstances. Ryan Tucker is also appealing after Trooper Pickers stopped him for speeding and performed a warrantless search. Both cases remain pending before the high court.
A copy of the decision is available in a 180k PDF file at the source link below.