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Court Addresses Reasonable Suspicion Standard in Arizona Drug Case

Recently, the Arizona Court of Appeals, issued an opinion in a defendant’s appeal of her conviction for the possession of dangerous drugs and drug paraphernalia. The case addressed whether the defendant experienced prolonged detainment and whether the detainment was supported by reasonable suspicion of criminal activity. Those facing Arizona drug charges should understand how the law protects their rights in these cases.

In this case, the defendant was driving in the early morning hours when she pulled over because she began to feel sick. A deputy noticed her car and pulled over to see if the woman and her occupants needed help. The defendant told the officer that she was on new medication and felt like she might have a seizure; however, she declined the officer’s offer to call an ambulance. The officer inquired about any drugs or weapons; however, she did not answer and then responded that she just ate. However, the officer called for a drug-detection dog and a medical unit. The woman’s boyfriend and an ambulance arrived, and the officer asked the boyfriend to wait at a gas station. Soon after, a drug detection dog arrived and alerted the officers of the presence of drugs.

Under Arizona law, officers can conduct a brief investigatory stop, if the officer has a “reasonable, articulable suspicion” that criminal activity is occurring. Reasonable suspicion requires that an officer explain some “minimal, objective” justification for the detention. Generally, courts must look at all relevant factors and review them collectively. Courts tend to provide deference towards an officer’s ability to determine whether a defendant’s actions were innocent or suspicious.

In this case, the court found that the officer’s initial contact was permissible because he was engaging in a “caretaking” function. However, the defendant argued that her detention began when she told the officer that she did not need an ambulance. When the defendant’s boyfriend arrived, the deputy needed reasonable suspicion to continue her detainment. The court found that, looking at the totality of the circumstances, the officer had reasonable suspicion. It reasoned that her non-responsive answer, in conjunction with her behavior and the passenger’s behavior, gave rise to the requisite level of suspicion.

The defendant also argued that the officer lacked probable cause to search the car. The warrant requirement includes an automobile exception, which allows officers to conduct warrantless searches. This is only applicable if the officer believes that the car contains contraband. The court found that a drug-detecting dog’s alert is not a “search” under the Fourth Amendment and thus does not implicate the warrant rule.

Have You Been Arrested for an Arizona Drug Offense?

If you or someone you love has been arrested for an Arizona drug crime, you should contact the Law Offices of James E. Novak. Attorney Novak has extensive experience handling Arizona criminal cases. He represents clients in cases involving drugs, weapons, sex offenses, theft, robbery, and other serious felony charges. For nearly 20 years, Attorney Novak has been representing those charged with crimes in Arizona. He provides clients with dedicated representation and individualized strategies to ensure that their rights are protected. Contact the Law Offices of James E. Novak at 480-413-1499 to schedule a free initial consultation.

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