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Arizona Court Concludes Defendant’s Statement Made During Border-Crossing Stop Was Not Suppressible

Earlier this month, a state appellate court issued a written opinion in an Arizona drug case discussing under what circumstances a defendant’s un-Mirandized statement made to law enforcement should be suppressed. Because the court concluded that the defendant was not in custody at the time she made the statement, it was not suppressible and was properly admitted at trial.

The Facts of the Case

According to the court’s opinion, the defendant was riding as the front-seat passenger in an SUV that was traveling through a border-crossing checkpoint. As the driver pulled into the checkpoint, the border-crossing agent’s drug-detection dog alerted to the vehicle. The agent directed the driver to pull over into the secondary screening area.

Evidently, once in the secondary screening area, law enforcement learned that the vehicle belonged to the defendant’s husband. The agent asked the defendant for permission to search the vehicle, and the defendant consented to the search. The agent’s dog hopped into the vehicle and alerted to a purse and then to two bags in the rear of the SUV. The defendant told the agent that the bags were hers. Inside the bags, the officer discovered several items she believed to be drug paraphernalia. The defendant was arrested and charged with possession of drug paraphernalia.

The Defendant’s Motion to Suppress

The defendant filed a motion to suppress the statements she gave to the border-crossing agent. Specifically, the defendant the defendant argued that when she answered the agent’s questions she was in custody and should have been provided her Miranda rights. The trial court denied the motion and the defendant appealed.

On appeal, the court held that the defendant’s motion was properly denied. The court explained that while detention at a border checkpoint is a seizure under the Fourth Amendment, it is only a “minimal intrusion” that does not need to be justified by any individualized suspicion. If, however, the stop extends beyond a routine checkpoint stop, an officer must have either consent or probable cause.

Here, the court held that the border-crossings interactions with the defendant started out as a routine checkpoint. During that checkpoint stop, the agent asked the defendant for consent to search the car. This consent, the court held, was voluntarily given and was within the scope of the initial checkpoint stop.

The court went on to explain that the defendant was not in custody when she told the officer that the bags were hers. The court considered the fact that the questioning was occurring in public, and that the defendant had her friend next to her. The court also noted that the defendant was not in handcuffs and was not threatened with arrest as she was being questioned. Because the court found that the defendant was not subject to custodial interrogation at the time she made her statements to the border-crossing agent, her statements were not protected and were properly introduced at trial.

Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona Drug Crime?

If you have recently been arrested after you gave an officer consent to search your vehicle, you should contact Attorney James E. Novak. Attorney Novak is a dedicated Arizona criminal defense attorney with extensive experience representing clients in a wide range of Arizona drug cases, including cases involving a defendant’s consent to search their vehicle. To learn more about how attorney Novak can help you defend against the charges you are facing, call 480-413-1499 to schedule your free consultation today.

Additional Resources:

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

Court Determines Digital Photographs Were Reviewable by a Jury Even When Not Admitted into Evidence, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, October 24, 2018

Court Finds Defendant Was Not Seized Although Police Boxed in Defendant’s Car, Preventing Him from Leaving, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, November 6, 2018

Court Holds the Smell of Marijuana Still Gives Rise to the Probable Cause to Search, Despite Arizona’s Medical Marijuana Statute, Arizona DUI and Criminal Defense Attorney Blog, November 20, 2018