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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. So that none are misinformed by my posting wihtout a non de plume here, please allow me to state that I am NOT an Indiana licensed attorney, although I am an Indiana resident approved to practice law and represent clients in Indiana's fed court of Nth Dist and before the 7th circuit. I remain licensed in KS, since 1996, no discipline. This must be clarified since the IN court records will reveal that I did sit for and pass the Indiana bar last February. Yet be not confused by the fact that I was so allowed to be tested .... I am not, to be clear in the service of my duty to be absolutely candid about this, I AM NOT a member of the Indiana bar, and might never be so licensed given my unrepented from errors of thought documented in this opinion, at fn2, which likely supports Mr Smith's initial post in this thread: http://caselaw.findlaw.com/us-7th-circuit/1592921.html

  2. When I served the State of Kansas as Deputy AG over Consumer Protection & Antitrust for four years, supervising 20 special agents and assistant attorneys general (back before the IBLE denied me the right to practice law in Indiana for not having the right stuff and pretty much crushed my legal career) we had a saying around the office: Resist the lure of the ring!!! It was a take off on Tolkiem, the idea that absolute power (I signed investigative subpoenas as a judge would in many other contexts, no need to show probable cause)could corrupt absolutely. We feared that we would overreach constitutional limits if not reminded, over and over, to be mindful to not do so. Our approach in so challenging one another was Madisonian, as the following quotes from the Father of our Constitution reveal: The essence of Government is power; and power, lodged as it must be in human hands, will ever be liable to abuse. We are right to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations. Liberty may be endangered by the abuse of liberty, but also by the abuse of power. All men having power ought to be mistrusted. -- James Madison, Federalist Papers and other sources: http://www.constitution.org/jm/jm_quotes.htm RESIST THE LURE OF THE RING ALL YE WITH POLITICAL OR JUDICIAL POWER!

  3. My dear Mr Smith, I respect your opinions and much enjoy your posts here. We do differ on our view of the benefits and viability of the American Experiment in Ordered Liberty. While I do agree that it could be better, and that your points in criticism are well taken, Utopia does indeed mean nowhere. I think Madison, Jefferson, Adams and company got it about as good as it gets in a fallen post-Enlightenment social order. That said, a constitution only protects the citizens if it is followed. We currently have a bevy of public officials and judicial agents who believe that their subjectivism, their personal ideology, their elitist fears and concerns and cause celebs trump the constitutions of our forefathers. This is most troubling. More to follow in the next post on that subject.

  4. Yep I am not Bryan Brown. Bryan you appear to be a bigger believer in the Constitution than I am. Were I still a big believer then I might be using my real name like you. Personally, I am no longer a fan of secularism. I favor the confessional state. In religious mattes, it seems to me that social diversity is chaos and conflict, while uniformity is order and peace.... secularism has been imposed by America on other nations now by force and that has not exactly worked out very well.... I think the American historical experiment with disestablishmentarianism is withering on the vine before our eyes..... Since I do not know if that is OK for an officially licensed lawyer to say, I keep the nom de plume.

  5. I am compelled to announce that I am not posting under any Smith monikers here. That said, the post below does have a certain ring to it that sounds familiar to me: http://www.catholicnewworld.com/cnwonline/2014/0907/cardinal.aspx

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