“A judge’s interpretation of a Supreme Court decision could change local police car-searching procedures.
Less than a gram of cocaine found in Lesslie Trunelly Lamar’s car during a Sept. 9 traffic stop can’t be used as evidence, Judge Robert Cheshire ruled Friday.
“The police need to follow certain procedures and try not to violate our civil rights as Americans,” Lamar’s lawyer, Alex Hernandez said.
Cheshire based his ruling on the April Supreme Court decision in Arizona v. Gant. The five-justice majority ruled officers can’t search a car after arrest without a warrant or probable cause.
“We will carefully study the judge’s ruling in this case and see how it affects the way we do business,” Police Chief Bruce Ure said.
Police stopped Lamar because the music coming from his car was too loud, a misdemeanor that is punishable only with a fine, Cheshire said.
The 31-year-old Victoria man did not have his driver’s license when officers stopped him, though his girlfriend brought it to the scene. Not displaying a license is also a fine-only misdemeanor and presenting a valid license later is a viable defense, Cheshire said.
“It was wrong,” Lamar said of his arrest.
The cocaine was discovered during a routine inventory police took so they could impound it, Chief Bruce Ure said. But because of officer testimony and other evidence, Cheshire decided it was a search incident to arrest.
In Lamar’s case, as in Gant, the driver was not a threat to officers when the car was searched because he was already under arrest. Nor would the search likely dredge up evidence of the crimes he had been arrested for: playing music too loud and not having a license.
Had Cheshire believed the search was an inventory, not a search, he would have made a similar ruling. If there are reasonable options besides impounding a car, officers should take them, Cheshire said.
“The defendant should always be allowed to arrange for someone else to take responsibility for the vehicle,” Cheshire said, although they’re not required to let defendants call a friend or family member to the scene.
Officers testified earlier they could not remember if Lamar’s girlfriend arrived before or after .04 of an ounce of cocaine was found in the glove compartment.
She was there, Lamar said, recalling that officers told her she could leave only after they found the drugs.
When deciding if it’s safe to leave a car parked, officers should consider how long the suspect will be away from the vehicle.
“The duration of the arrest would have been minimal,” Cheshire said, because Lamar had enough cash in his pockets to pay the fines.
After Lamar and Hernandez were away from the courtroom, they slapped high fives and hugged.
Lamar could describe his reaction to the ruling only as speechless.”