Law Enforcement Case Law

AuthorJonathon Cooper,Virginia Hatch,Craig Hemmens
Published date01 September 2007
Date01 September 2007
Subject MatterArticles
Law Enforcement Case Law
Craig Hemmens
Jonathon Cooper
Virginia Hatch
Boise State University, Idaho
This article is another in a recurring series that provides a selective review of current case
law involving law enforcement. The cases are drawn from decisions rendered by the
U.S. Courts of Appeal between January 2005 and December 2006. This time period covers
Volumes 390-472 of the Federal Reporter (third edition). The topics addressed include
the following areas of search and seizure law commonly faced by law enforcement officers: the
exclusionary rule, probable cause, stop and frisk, the search incident to arrest exception,
the exigent circumstances exception to the warrant requirement, consent searches, automo-
bile searches, plain view, and open fields. Cases were selected on the basis of their currency
and discussion of current “hot-button” issues in search and seizure law.
This article provides criminal justice scholars with an update on the current state of the
law in search and seizure. Although the U.S. Supreme Court is the final word on the subject,
the high court decides only a handful of search and seizure cases in a term. The bulk of the
law is developed in the lower courts. The federal courts of appeal hear appeals regarding
Fourth Amendment claims from all of the states. They interpret Supreme Court pro-
nouncements and apply Supreme Court rules to a variety of situations and contexts, often
ones not anticipated by the high court.
Exclusionary Rule
In Mapp v. Ohio (1960), the U.S. Supreme Court applied the exclusionary rule to the
states; the rule had previously been applied to the federal government in Weeks v. United
States (1914). The exclusionary rule prevents the use, at trial, of evidence obtained by law
enforcement officers in violation of the Fourth Amendment. Since Mapp, the Court has
struggled to define the parameters of the rule. It has limited the circumstances in which it
may be applied and has created several exceptions to the rule. In United States v. Teague
(2006), the defendant claimed his rights were violated when evidence, previously suppressed
in a coconspirator’s prosecution, was used against him. The case unfolded on a Missouri
highway. Two men, Christopher Sugar and Sean Stark, were en route to Massachusetts in an
RV loaded with marijuana. On approaching a sign alerting them of a drug search on the sub-
sequent exit, set up by law enforcement to seize illegal drugs, the two exited early but were
pulled over because their vehicle crossed the fog line. The police brought in canines to
search the vehicle and discovered 27 bales of marijuana. Sugar and Stark agreed to assist
law enforcement by leading them to their destination, a hotel parking lot in Marlboro,
Massachusetts. On October 24, 2003, their vehicle was met by a Lexus containing three
passengers: Trevor Teague, Anibal Torres, and Fabian Ruiz. Each man was arrested during
Criminal Justice Review
Volume 32 Number 3
September 2007 303-328
© 2007 Georgia State University
Research Foundation, Inc.
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Recent Legal Developments
the exchange of marijuana from the RV to the Lexus and charged with conspiracy to distribute
more than 100 kg of marijuana. Sugar and Stark chose not to cooperate any further and filed
a motion to suppress the marijuana found in their vehicle. They claimed that the initial stop
violated the Fourth Amendment requirement of “reasonableness.” The two maintained that the
traffic violation of crossing the fog line did not constitute reasonable suspicion of criminal
activity to justify the police detaining them until the drug dogs arrived. The district court
granted their motion. Teague then filed a motion to suppress the evidence on the same grounds.
The district court denied his motion, and he was convicted.
On appeal, Teague claimed that if the search of Sugar and Stark’s vehicle was unconsti-
tutional and the evidence was excluded from their trial, then the evidence should be excluded
at his trial as well. Although he conceded that he was not directly affected by the search of
Sugar and Stark’s vehicle, he believed his due process rights were nonetheless violated.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals denied Teague’s appeal on the grounds that a violation of
due process rights can only occur when the government violates the rights of the defendant,
not those of a third party. The circuit court explained that even if the officers made an error
during the stop and search of Sugar and Stark’s vehicle, their actions would not have violated
the due process rights of Teague, as he was not present and the vehicle was not his.
The exclusionary rule prohibits the use of evidence obtained by the police during an unlawful
search. It also precludes the use of “fruit of the poisonous tree”—evidence that is obtained as
a result of a Fourth Amendment violation. In United States v. Chavira (2006), the issue was
whether the discovery of cocaine, following an admittedly unlawful search of the defendant’s
vehicle identification number (VIN), was admissible. Chavira was stopped on an interstate in
Kansas for swerving in and out of his lane. The state trooper obtained Chavira’s license, reg-
istration, and insurance, then asked Chavira to accompany him to his patrol car while he ver-
ified the documentation. While standing outside of Chavira’s vehicle, the trooper examined
the VIN on the dashboard and then, without permission, opened the vehicle door to check the
VIN located on the doorjamb. The trooper returned Chavira’s documents and issued a warn-
ing. While the two men were still standing at the patrol car, the trooper noticed that Chavira’s
hands were continuously shaking, more so than would be expected for a chilly evening. This
prompted the trooper to engage Chavira in further conversation and, eventually, ask him
whether he had any drugs in the car. Chavira appeared nervous when he was asked about pos-
sessing cocaine, and the trooper then sought and obtained consent from Chavira to search his
vehicle. The search uncovered drug paraphernalia. The trooper asked Chavira whether he
would allow the truck to be towed to the highway patrol garage for a more detailed inspec-
tion, and Mr. Chavira declined. The trooper then called for a canine, and shortly after its
arrival, it alerted and Chavira was arrested. A search of the trunk revealed a large quantity of
cocaine. Chavira filed a motion to suppress the cocaine as fruit of the poisonous tree, claim-
ing that not only was he unlawfully detained because he was questioned after he was issued
a warning, but that his consent to search the vehicle was tainted by the prior illegal VIN
search. His motion was denied, and he was convicted.
On appeal, the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed Chavira’s conviction, asserting
that the discovery of cocaine did not result from an unlawful search or detention, but rather
was the product of a consensual search that followed the initial stop. Although the court of
appeals did find the opening of the door to examine the VIN to be an unlawful search, there
was no detention at the time the trooper sought consent to search because he had returned
304 Criminal Justice Review

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