Pubdate: Sun, 24 Aug 2008
Source: Journal Times, The (Racine, WI)
Copyright: 2008 The Journal Times
Author: Janine Anderson


Illegal Stop, Search Lead To Dismissed Case

RACINE -- The Racine County Sheriff's Department made two costly
mistakes when deputies arrested a man for  marijuana possession and
manufacturing in October 2006, according to court rulings.

Those mistakes - an unlawful traffic stop based on a cell phone call
and search of the contents of a digital  camera and GPS device found
after the arrest - have  forced the District Attorney's Office to drop
all six charges against the suspect.

Dean Brown, 39, was arrested Oct. 13, 2006, after Racine County
deputies caught up with him following a  cell phone call from a driver
who believed Brown was acting suspiciously, possibly trespassing. The
deputy  who made the traffic stop reportedly smelled raw  marijuana in
the car and searched the vehicle. In the  car, the deputy allegedly
found garbage bags full of  marijuana plants. In total, deputies
allegedly  recovered nearly 36 pounds of marijuana with a possible 
street value as high as $140,000.

Deputies also found a digital camera and GPS unit. The camera
contained images of marijuana growing in fields. Members of the
Racine County Metro Drug Unit checked  out recently used coordinates
on the GPS unit and  discovered several marijuana grow sites.

Brown was then charged with possession of drug  paraphernalia,
possession of marijuana with intent to deliver and four counts of
manufacturing marijuana.

Brown's attorney, Patrick Cafferty, challenged the charges. He filed
motions to suppress all evidence in  the case, saying the deputy did
not have grounds to  stop his client in the first place and that any 
evidence obtained from the searches of the contents of the camera or
GPS unit was inadmissible because deputies did not have warrants to
search the contents  of the devices.

Cafferty's challenges were successful.

The four manufacturing marijuana charges were dropped in April 2007,
after Circuit Court Judge Emily Mueller  ruled in the defense's favor,
saying that deputies  should have obtained a search warrant for the
camera  and GPS device before looking at their contents.

Mueller also ruled that the traffic stop was unlawful, but the state
appealed that. The Court of Appeals  upheld her ruling late last
month, and the state has  now dismissed all charges against Brown.

The Court of Appeals ruling on the traffic stop said that a 911 call
by a motorist did not give the  Sheriff's Department "reasonable
suspicion" to stop  Brown's vehicle.

"The right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures" is
contained within the state and federal constitutions, the court's
opinion stated. The court  said that police may approach people to
investigate  possible criminal behavior without probable cause to 
make an arrest, but that the officer must be able to state facts that
led up to the approach.

However, the opinion states, the Supreme Court of the United States
"has long held that 'good faith on the part of the arresting officers
is not enough,' " and  that if that was all that was required, "the 
protections of the Fourth Amendment would evaporate."

The Sheriff's Department receives training on conducting legal stops
and searches, said Lt. Dan  Klatt, spokesman for the department, but
deputies must make judgment calls. He said there is no easy answer.

"Each decision is based on a case-by-case situation,"  Klatt said.
"There are rules of evidence, but there are some exigent
circumstances. It ends up being what the officer perceives. If he
perceives one of these exigent circumstances apply, that's what he's
basing his  decision on at the time."

In this particular case, the court has ruled that the deputies'
actions were not in line with the law that governs traffic stops and
searches. While the police  work led to evidence against Brown, when
the court  suppressed the evidence it became unusable in court, 
effectively ending the case.
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