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Reasonable Suspicion and Transporting Meth for Sale in Arizona

In a recent Arizona meth crime decision, the court considered whether using or possessing several deadly weapons while perpetrating a drug felony should be considered just one offense under Arizona Revised Statutes (“A.R.S.”) section 13-3102(A)(8) and whether a defendant convicted of transporting methamphetamine for sale under A.R.S. § 13-3407(A)(7) should be able to get an early release.

The case arose when a highway patrol officer saw the defendant driving by with his windows down and then slowed while passing him. The policeman followed him and stopped him for hitting the brakes for no reason and twice swerving over the fog line.

The defendant and his passenger provided inconsistent statements, so the policeman asked for a drug canine unit. The dog alerted. The police found handguns, four pounds of meth, half a pound of heroin, and another case that held a bit of heroin and a used syringe. The defendant admitted he’d used heroin and gave a urine sample. A drug test showed metabolites of marijuana, methamphetamine, and heroin.

The defendant was indicted for transporting a dangerous drug for sale and a narcotic drug, two counts of misconduct with weapons, and other charges. The passenger was also indicted in connection with the drugs and weapons. The defendant was acquitted of some offenses but found guilty of a DUI charge, transporting a dangerous drug for sale, possessing a narcotic drug, possessing drug paraphernalia, and misconduct involving weapons. The jury also determined that the co-defendant was guilty of all of the charges and found the presence of an accomplice and perpetration of an offense for pecuniary gain as aggravating factors. He was sentenced to concurrent aggravated prison terms. The longest of the terms was 14 years.

The defendant appealed. He argued that the lower court made a mistake by denying his motion to suppress evidence on the basis that the police didn’t have a reasonable suspicion for a traffic stop. The officer testified he’d stopped the car out of worry that the driver might be sleepy or impaired. The lower court had found a reasonable suspicion based on the policeman’s concern he was impaired.

The appellate court reasoned that under the Fourth Amendment, a stop of a car is a seizure and needs to be justified by an objective sign that the person stopped was or is engaged in a crime. A hunch is insufficient for a stop.

The appellate court found that the lower court had not abused its discretion. Unnecessary braking and weaving made up enough of an objective basis on which the officer could determine the driver might be impaired. The defendant argued that the reason for stopping the car was a pretext, but as long as it wasn’t a product of prohibited racial profiling, it didn’t violate the Fourth Amendment just because the policeman’s ulterior motives could include goals other than traffic enforcement.

In this case, the policeman didn’t stop the driver for swerving once or violating a law, but instead he stopped the driver based on the totality of his actions, which the lower court found showed a reasonable likelihood the driver might be impaired.

For these and other reasons, the meth crime conviction was affirmed.

If you are facing a drug crime charge in Tempe, Chandler, Gilbert, or Scottsdale, consult criminal defense attorney James E. Novak. As a former Maricopa County Prosecutor, he’ll use insights obtained as a prosecutor to evaluate whether any of your constitutional rights was violated and develop an approach to your defense. He offers a free initial consultation to people facing active criminal charges in his area. If you have been charged with a drug crime, call or contact The Law Office of James Novak at (480) 413-1499 and talk directly with Mr. Novak.

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