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Arizona Appellate Court Holds Police Had Reason to Order Passenger Back into Car and Conduct Search

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona drug possession case requiring the court to determine if the trial court properly denied the defendant’s motion to suppress. The court ultimately determined that the defendant, who was a passenger in a lawfully stopped vehicle, was legally detained, and the subsequent investigation by police officers did not exceed their legal authority.

The Facts of the Case

The defendant was a passenger in a car being driven by a friend. The car was stopped by police for having an expired registration. The driver quickly pulled over in front of a residence, and the police parked behind the stopped car. As the police were exiting their vehicle, the defendant started to get out of the front-passenger seat; however, police ordered that he get back in the car. The defendant explained that he lived at the residence, and he wanted to go inside. The officer denied the defendant’s request and had him remain in the vehicle.

As the police officers were running the occupants’ licenses for warrants, they noticed a substance they believed to be marijuana in the center console area. The police asked both men out of the car and asked if they would consent to be searched. The defendant responded, “I got nothing on me, that’s fine.” However, police found a crack pipe and a bag of heroin in the defendant’s pockets.

The defendant argued that the police officers violated his constitutional rights when they ordered he remain with the vehicle despite his expressed desire to leave. The defendant claimed that, as a result of this improper seizure, the defendant’s consent to search his person was not valid. The defendant did not challenge the reason for the traffic stop.

The court, however, disagreed. The court explained that, since the defendant did not contest the legality of the traffic stop, it was presumed legal. And since the stop was legal, the court explained that under U.S. Supreme Court case law, the driver and all of the occupants were legally seized. Thus, the police officers were able to ask that the defendant stay seated in the car. The court also rejected the defendant’s argument that the officers did not have a reason to extend the traffic stop after finding the suspected marijuana because medical marijuana is legal in Arizona. The court held that the presence of marijuana does give a police officer a reasonable suspicion to conduct an investigation.

Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona Drug Crime?

If you have recently been arrested and charged with an Arizona drug crime, or another criminal offense, you should consult the Law Office of James E. Novak. It may be that the evidence that was seized from you was taken illegally. Attorney James Novak has over 17 years of experience representing those charged with serious crimes in Arizona. He has a keen understanding of both substantive and procedural criminal laws in Arizona courts. To schedule your free consultation, call 480-413-1499 today.

Additional Resources:

Other Articles of Interest from The Law Office of James Novak’s Award Winning Blog:

The Importance of Effective Cross-Examination of Witnesses in Arizona Criminal Defense Cases, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, April 25, 2018

Arizona’s Good-Faith Exception, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, May 15, 2018

Arizona Court Precludes Evidence of Defendant’s PTSD Diagnosis in Recent Homicide Case, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, April 11, 2018