1/20/2015Federal Court Upholds Unconstitutional Car Search
A federal judge convicts a man based on an automobile search declared illegal by a state court judge.
A federal judge decided earlier this month to accept evidence from an automobile search that a state court magistrate had declared unlawful. US District Judge Jerome B. Simandle insisted that there was nothing wrong in accepting the evidence deemed tainted by the New Jersey Superior Court.
The question was raised over the December 22, 2012 traffic stop of Terron Perry, a 26-year-old felon who does not make for a sympathetic defendant. Nevertheless, the precedent will apply to all motorists.
Camden Police Officer Evette Truitt had spotted Perry's Chevy Impala driving recklessly. She decided to pull over the vehicle because it had darkly tinted windows and it was speeding. Officer Raul Beltran arrived at the scene to provide backup while Perry and his passenger, Assan Perry, were handcuffed in the back of separate squad cars so that the Impala could be searched. A hidden compartment revealed a Ruger P345 .45 caliber pistol.
On March 14, 2014, a state court ruled that this warrantless search violated New Jersey law because there were no "exigent circumstances" that would have prevented the officer from asking a judge for a warrant. The state court suppressed the illegally obtained evidence.
Judge Simandle decided that the federal prosecution of Perry did not violate the Fifth Amendment prohibition against double jeopardy -- being tried for the same crime twice -- because there was no evidence that federal and state prosecutors were working together for a "second bite at the apple."
"Indeed, defendant has not demonstrated any impermissible collusion between the respective sovereigns, or any facts to suggest that the state prosecution occurred at the behest of federal authorities," Judge Simandle ruled. "To the contrary, the record only reflects that the state and federal prosecutions proceeded independently, subject only to some level of incidental cooperation between the separate sovereigns."
Likewise, the federal court dismissed the contention that the warrantless search was a violation of the Fourth Amendment -- but not on the grounds provided by the police who said the Impala was searched for "officer safety" while the Perrys were handcuffed in the back of police cars.
"Despite Officer Beltran's assertions, the court finds that he could not reasonably have believed that defendant and/or Assan Perry could have accessed the vehicle at the time of the search," Judge Simandle wrote.
Instead, the federal judge ruled the search was justified under the federal automobile exception that allows a car to be searched if there is probable cause that the vehicle contains evidence of a crime. Here, Officer Beltran saw shell casings that served as an indication that the car could have been involved in a recent incident where gunshots had been heard.
"The court holds that the United States is not bound by the [New Jersey] Superior Court's suppression decision under the circumstances of this case, as it is a separate sovereign, not in privity with the state prosecutor in the superior court case," Judge Simandle concluded. "On the merits, the court holds that this warrantless search was within the federal automobile exception and that the motion to suppress evidence seized from the vehicle should be denied."
A copy of the decision is available in a 65k PDF file at the source link below.