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7th Circuit: traffic stop constitutional

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A traffic stop in which police found drugs after telling the defendant he was free to go did not violate the defendant's Fourth Amendment rights, ruled the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals today.

In U.S.A. v. Fernando Figueroa-Espana, No. 06-4270, Figueroa-Espana challenged the denial of his motion to suppress evidence and his sentence of 176 months for his guilty plea to one count of possession with intent to distribute 5 kilograms of cocaine.

An Indiana State trooper stopped Figueroa-Espana March 7, 2006, after seeing him tailgate a car while driving on Interstate 65. During the traffic stop, the police officer spoke in broken Spanish and English to Figueroa-Espana to try to figure out who owned the truck, if he had a valid driver's license, and his destination. Another trooper, who spoke better Spanish, came to the scene. Figueroa-Espana did not have a valid driver's license, did not own the truck he was driving, nor did he know who owned it. Figueroa-Espana told the second trooper he was in the country illegally; both troopers said Figueroa-Espana was acting nervous during the stop.

After issuing him a warning ticket and telling him he was free to go, the troopers decided to ask him some more questions and one honked his police horn, which caused the siren to go off briefly. The second trooper asked Figueroa-Espana if he could search the truck, and Figueroa-Espana consented. The troopers found hidden compartments containing approximately 10 kilograms of cocaine.

Figueroa-Espana was arrested, read his Miranda rights, and admitted to knowingly transporting the drugs. At trial, he filed a motion to suppress the drugs recovered from the search of the truck; the District Court denied his motion. Figueroa-Espana then entered a conditional guilty plea and was sentenced to 176 months in prison and five years' supervised release.

Figueroa-Espana argued that his Fourth Amendment rights were violated by the search of the truck, so the drugs recovered should not be allowed at trial. The Circuit Court found that his constitutional rights weren't violated because the troopers told Figueroa-Espana he was free to go at any time after he was given the ticket and the activation of the police siren did not indicate a new traffic stop. He was also told he didn't have to allow the troopers to search the truck, but he consented.

Figueroa-Espana did not own the truck he was driving and he had no reasonable expectation of privacy, so he would not have any constitutional protection over the search of the car, wrote Judge William Bauer.

Finally, Figueroa-Espana argued the District Court's sentence was affected by his motion to suppress evidence but, Judge Bauer wrote, the fact he lied repeatedly about who owned the truck impacted his sentence.

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  1. Future generations will be amazed that we prosecuted people for possessing a harmless plant. The New York Times came out in favor of legalization in Saturday's edition of the newspaper.

  2. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  3. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  4. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  5. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

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