Search and seizure law dark side revealed. Episode 025 of the Criminal Nuggets Podcast highlights an example of a case with a less than completely honest deputy. Very important facts were withheld from the defense, the judge, and the prosecution.
Push play above to hear all about People v. Gonzalez-Carrera, 2014 IL App (2d) 130968 (09/02/2014).
You're Gonna Love These Facts
The defense ran a motion to suppress evidence based on what they thought was an unconstitutional traffic stop.
The case turned on whether or not the broken taillight could mattered in the middle of the day when the car was actually stopped. The law required red lights to be visible for at least 500 feet at night. See 625 ILCS 5/12-201(b)
It was day time, and no evidence that red light was not visible for at least 500 feet. So, the judge granted the motion. All the evidence found in the car was suppressed.
What Exactly Was Suppressed?
The judge threw out and excluded from evidence
- 4 kilos of cocaine and
- 1 pound of meth
This was all discovered in the car.
Wait, We Are Not Done
Upon seeing the court’s ruling, the prosecution filed a motion to reconsider and a motion to reopen the proofs. The State told the judge, that there was more crucial evidence that they failed to mention in the hearing.
In their motion, they told the judge that their was more information the court had to consider.
You see, the driver of that car was under investigation by the F.B.I. That federal agency had been involved in a massive drug transaction with the Defendant right before the deputy pulled him over for driving with a broken taillight.
Ok. The judge wanted to know if the deputy who stopped the car knew of this federal investigation and federal transaction.
Um. The deputy didn’t tell the prosecution if he knew or not. Judge denied the motion to reconsider. The drugs were still out.
Wait, Wait There’s More Again
The prosecution then came back with another motion to reconsider and another motion to reopen the proofs.
This time they told the judge they had the whole story. Yes, the deputy who stopped the car, in fact, was aware of the federal investigation. That kind of may be why he stopped the car in the first place. The broken taillight thing was just the cop's good luck.
Judge Not Happy
The trial court was not impressed. It found it “almost impossible to understand” why the deputy did not reveal all this information to the prosecution. The court saw this as dishonesty to the court because he was asked under oath for the basis of the stop. ¶ 11
Second motion to reconsider denied. Finally, The drugs were out.
Appellate Court Agrees With Trial Judge
The State appealed the trial court’s decision to not reopen the proofs.
The appellate court had no problem ruling that the trial court got it right.
“This type of post hearing switcheroo is not an appropriate use of a motion to reopen proofs.” ¶ 22.
The final words written by the appellate court were these –
“Honesty and candor between law enforcement officers and prosecutors is essential to the fair administration of justice. If an ongoing investigation is in jeopardy of being derailed because of an ongoing prosecution, there are legal options available to postpone the disclosure, so long as the defendant’s rights are not compromised. In short, lying under oath is never an option.”
Was the Cop Really Lying?
To be fair, the deputy did not go into court with a plan to actively deceive. In his mind, he was not lying or being dishonest.
I am sure the deputy did not think he was doing anything wrong. He never said anything that was not true. He merely failed to inform the prosecution, the defense, or the judge of one little fact.
In the end, the only perspective that matters is that of the court’s. Here, the trial court and appellate court described the officer’s behavior as dishonest.
Going by this standard then, I would say we have a big problem on our hands.
I say we have a problem because in my opinion…
Police are doing this sort of thing all the time.
The reason this type of behavior is frequent is because the police know that the law allows them to get away with it. It is easy to do.
In 99% or more the motions that are litigated, like the motion in this case, the prosecution wins the motion. This case was rare. That’s just how the law is set up.
Search and Seizure Law
Cop’s know that all they have to do is pick a car that they want to stop and then follow it until some minor traffic infraction is observed. Further, the cop’s know that in court the prosecution is most likely going to win any motions filed by the defense that challenge that stop.
This is true because in court when a judge reviews a case for a violation of the Fourth Amendment an objective standard is used.
When we use an objective standard that means the case is analyzed from the perspective of a reasonable officer in the same situation. The court does not ask, investigate, or care what was in the mind of the actual officer that performed the stop.
Instead, the court asks what an imaginary officer in the same situation as the the office would have done. Would a reasonable officer have stopped a car with a broken taillight?
With an objective standard:
- The subjective perspective of actual cop is irrelevant
- The court ignores what the actual cop’s motives were
- The reasonableness of an imaginary cop’s behavior is the focus
Its Too Easy
The current rules make it so easy for the police to withhold their true motives, intent, and reasons for their behavior. It is naive to think that this is not a common practice by law enforcement.
Well, answering the question of whether this a problem may not be that easy. Opinions will differ. But, these judges had their robes tied in a knot for a reason. They were angry.
You see, the State probably would have (almost certainly) would have won the motion if they had fronted the federal investigation from the get-go. The judges were upset with the perceived dishonesty by the police.
Whether this is an example of a one bad cop who made one bad decision or a symptom of a much broader problem with our system is going to depend on your perspective.
Oh, That Problem
For my taste, I say it is a problem anytime the police are withholding important information about their true motives. Nobody, can really think that it is ever appropriate for the police to drive prosecutions.
But that is exactly what happens when important information is kept away from the prosecutors.
The prosecutors are there for a reason. As a defense attorney, let me say that the police should allow the prosecutors to do their job.
What do you think, should we allow the cop’s to give the sentence as well?