Posts tagged with "contraband"

Warrantless Search of Defendant’s Vehicle Upheld; Probable Cause Established by Drug-Related Items Found on His Person

In a recent case, a criminal defendant failed in persuading the Supreme Court of Connecticut that the State provided insufficient evidence that he constructively possessed crack cocaine and marijuana found in the car he was driving. In his appeal, he also argued that the search itself was improper and all evidence collected derived from it should have been excluded. At trial, the defendant filed a motion to suppress evidence, arguing that the officers conducted a warrantless search of his vehicle in violation of the state and federal constitutions. This motion was denied, because the trial court determined that the search was a valid search incident to a lawful arrest.

Under state and federal law, individuals are protected against unreasonable searches and seizures of their persons, houses, papers, and effects. A search conducted without a warrant evidencing probable cause is per se unreasonable, and evidence derived from this illegal search will be excluded unless one of very few exceptions apply. This includes the automobile exception, which permits officers to search a vehicle without a warrant where “the searching officer[s] have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains contraband” or other objects that would be subject to seizure and destruction. There are two primary justifications underlying this exception: the ability of a car to move (thus creating exigent circumstances) and the diminished expectation of privacy afforded to automobiles.

In this case, officers saw the defendant drop wax folds containing what appeared to be heroin and later swallow them. As such, they had probable cause “to believe that additional contraband would be found in the car [the defendant] had been driving.” This determination was bolstered by the fact that officers found rolling papers and $550 in cash directly on the defendant. After dispensing of alternative grounds regarding the legality of the search, the Supreme Court held that the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress.

When faced with a charge for possession or distribution of controlled substances, an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-211-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.

Superior Court Denies Motions to Suppress in DUI Case, Finding Defendant’s Constitutional Rights Were Not Violated

This case arose from an incident that occurred on April 6, 2008. A police officer received word from dispatch that a restaurant drive-thru employee called in to report a customer, the defendant, who appeared to be under the influence of alcohol. The officer was given specific information about the vehicle and told that this was the third such report received. The officer promptly located the defendant’s vehicle and initiated a traffic stop.

When the officer approached the vehicle, he observed beer cans on the back floor of the defendant’s car in plain sight. Some of these were empty, and all were seized as evidence. After additional officers arrived on the scene, they conducted field sobriety tests and then arrested the defendant and brought her to police headquarters. There, the officers advised the defendant of her Miranda rights and had her review a Notice of Rights form, which included information regarding implied consent and the chemical alcohol test refusal. The defendant was told she could call an attorney, but she was unable to successfully make contact with one. After fifteen minutes passed, officers advised the defendant that she had to decide whether or not to take the test, so she refused.

The defendant was charged with operating a motor vehicle while under the influence (OMVUI) of alcohol in violation of General Statutes § 14-227a. She moved to suppress statements she made as well as evidence collected from the motor vehicle stop and during a search of her car. In support of her motions, the defendant argued that police violated her rights under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

The Fourth Amendment protects people from unreasonable searches and seizures, and generally police must have a warrant to conduct a search. However, there are four recognized, narrow exceptions where the warrantless search of a vehicle is reasonable, including “when there was probable cause to believe that the car contained contraband or evidence pertaining to a crime.” Officers may seize contraband that it finds in plain view, and “such observations give rise to probable cause justifying a search of the vehicle.”

The Fifth Amendment, in part, prohibits compelled self-incrimination. The well-known recitation of Miranda warnings stem from the construction of this Amendment, and two conditions are required before an officer must invoke this warning: custody and interrogation. Waiver of Miranda rights must be made knowingly and voluntarily, which must be proven by the State by the preponderance of the evidence.

Under Connecticut law, in an action where a defendant is charged with OMVUI, the jury may draw permissive inferences from the fact that the defendant refused to submit to a breathalyzer test. In addition, identifiable citizen informants are presumptively reliable, and officers are justified when they assume that the informant is providing truthful information. Because of the pervasive state interest in preventing drunk driving, officers do not have to wait for the defendant to drive erratically or cause an accident before pulling them over.

In this case, the Superior Court of Connecticut adjudicating the case denied all of the defendant’s motions. It found that police had a reasonable and articulable suspicion to stop the defendant, based on the information provided by the restaurant employee, an identifiable citizen informant. The seizure of the beer cans, which were in plain view, was permissible. In addition, because there was no interrogation at the police station, the defendant was not compelled to incriminate herself. Rather, pursuant to General Statutes § 14-227b(b), police officers have the explicit authority to request that a defendant arrested for OMVUI sub

When faced with a charge of operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated (a.k.a. driving under the influence), an individual is best served by consulting with an experienced criminal law practitioner. Should you have any questions regarding criminal defense, please do not hesitate to contact Attorney Joseph C. Maya in the firm’s Westport office in Fairfield County at 203-221-3100 or at JMaya@Mayalaw.com.

Written by Lindsay E. Raber, Esq.