2006 Dodge Stratus Sdn 4dr trunkEnlarge Photo
We trust that few, if any, of our readers use or possess illegal substances. But if there happen to be such people, you may wish to note a decision by President Obama's newly named choice for Justice of the US Supreme Court.
While the judge describes herself as "extraordinarily intense and very fun-loving," Judge Sonia Sotomayor wrote an opinion in Appeals Court that it was constitutionally permissible for state troopers to use a pretext to lure two suspects away from their cars so that troopers could search them without a warrant.
In the first case, two defendants parked their Acura in the Woodbury Commons shopping mall outside New York City, and a black SUV arrived and parked nose-to-nose with their vehicle. Various goings-on with a black knapsack were observed, and eventually the defendants left the mall.
Because no determination had been reached whether to arrest Howard and Restifo at this point in the investigation, said the decision, the team leaders devised a ruse to lure Howard and Restifo away from their vehicle so that it could be searched, unbeknownst to them, by law enforcement personnel.
So a New York State Trooper patrol pulled them over, claimed that there had been an incident of road rage involving a vehicle like theirs, and asked that the defendants accompany them to the barracks to be interviewed--which they did.
Before they left, "[t]he vehicle was surreptitiously tampered with so that the vehicle would remain unlocked even if Howard and Restifo attempted to lock it," according to the testimony. We're curious about this one: tape over a door latch, perhaps?
Police searched the vehicle once the men had done. In the trunk they removed, "a black knapsack, inside which they found about one kilogram of cocaine in a sealed package and a black plastic shopping bag that contained about eight ounces of cocaine hydrochloride. They also found a smaller zip-close bag containing $20,100."
To make it look like the car had been vandalized, they broke a pool cue that was in the car and pried open the glove compartment door. The crux of the case is that they did this without having a search warrant.
The second case was similar, involving a defendant in a gold Dodge Stratus owned by his mother. Again, troopers approached and asked him to come and be interviewed involving a drive-off at a gas station in a car matching that description.
"There was ample probable cause to support these searches," wrote Sotomayor, "and a disinterested magistrate judge assuredly would have issued a warrant had one been sought."
Moral of the story? We can think of several. First, don't buy drugs in a shopping center parking lot. Second, if you're stopped by state troopers, stay with your car. Third, if you're not going to pay attention to morals one or two, get a lawyer.
Her financial disclosure form does not disclose what make and model of car Judge Sotomayor herself owns. At press time (as they used to say in the newspaper business), we were unable to determine if in fact the judge--who lives in Manhattan--drives at all.
Sonia Sotomayor, US Court of Appeals, Second CircuitEnlarge Photo
[SOURCE: Associated Press]