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Arizona Court Addresses Reasonable Suspicion in Defendant’s Motion to Suppress

Recently, an Arizona defendant appealed his conviction and sentence for the possession of a dangerous drug and drug paraphernalia. The defendant argued that the trial court erred by denying his motion to suppress. The case arose after a patrol officer in a “high-drug area” witnessed the defendant enter the parking lot of a closed grocery store to briefly talk to a man on a bicycle. The officer, believing that the defendant was engaged in a crime, called for backup. Meanwhile, the defendant entered a gym for a few moments and then left and drove away. The officers pulled the defendant over when they noticed that he did not have a license plate or license plate light.

The officers advised the defendant that they were stopping him because of his license plate issues, and they asked him for his identification, registration, and insurance. The officers noted that the defendant seemed nervous, continually tried to put his hands in his pockets, and denied having any drugs. The officers requested K-9 units based on the man’s evasive answers, perceived drug residue on his tongue, and the time of night and nature of the high-crime area in which he was driving. A search revealed methamphetamine, a metal spoon, glass pipe, measuring cup, ice cream scoop, and medical syringes. The trial court sentenced him to nine years in prison. The defendant argued that his stop was not “based on reasonable suspicion of criminal activity,” and even if the stop was reasonable, the length and duration of the stop was impermissible.

Under the Fourth Amendment, an investigative stop is a type of seizure. However, because they are less intrusive than arrests, they do not require the probable cause necessary to effectuate an arrest. Police officers only need to have a reasonable suspicion that a person violated a traffic law or is engaged in criminal activity to conduct an investigatory stop. In this case, the defendant argued that the stop was improper because he had a temporary license in his window. Here, the court found that the temporary registration was not “clearly visible.” Therefore, the court found that the trial court did not err in finding that the officers had reasonable suspicion to stop the defendant for his missing license plate.

In the alternative, the defendant argued that the officers’ reasonable suspicion to stop him dissipated when they noticed his temporary tag. The state responded that continued detention was appropriate because they had reasonable suspicion that the defendant was engaged in drug activity. Under the law, investigative detentions must be temporary and last no longer than necessary. However, case law does not provide a specific or rigid time limit for a stop. Instead, the appropriate question is whether the officers “diligently pursued a means of investigation,” during which time it was necessary to detain the defendant. Here, the delay was because the officers were awaiting a K-9 unit, and courts understand that it will take time. Ultimately, the court affirmed the lower court’s ruling that the defendant did not experience a Fourth Amendment violation.

Are You Facing Drug Charges in Arizona?

If you or someone you know has recently been arrested and charged with an Arizona drug offense, contact the Law Offices of James E. Novak. Attorney Novak has decades of experience successfully resolving cases on behalf of those accused of crimes in Arizona. He provides compassionate, respectful, and diligent representation to those facing serious crimes. Attorney Novak handles various criminal cases, including those stemming from drug offenses, gun charges, sex offenses, and homicides. Contact Attorney Novak at 480-413-1499, to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.

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