Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Colorado Court of Appeals Young v. Larimer County Sheriff's Office

Decision here.

   Not going to waste too much time on this because it's only a state court of appeals case.  Basically, Young was arrested for cultivating marijuana, his plants were seized (by cutting them off just above the root, which is fatal for plants), and he was acquitted based on a medical marijuana defense.  He sued the sheriff's department for killing his marijuana plants.

   The Colorado Court of Appeals upheld a dismissal of the lawsuit.  The court held that he couldn't sue under § 1983 because marijuana is contraband under federal law so the US Constitution doesn't recognized any property interest in it.  The court held that he couldn't sue for just compensation for the taking of property, since that particular state law addresses the taking of property for public or private use (which doesn't describe what the police do when they seize evidence).  And the court held that even the the Colorado constitution prohibits the police from destroying marijuana that they seize, there is no state statute which is equivalent to § 1983, so Young can't file a lawsuit against the police for violating the Colorado constitution.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Tenth Circuit US v. Tubens 13-4118

Decision here.

   Tubens was travelling on a Greyhound bus through Utah to Philadelphia.  When the bus made a scheduled rest stop, two cops obtained consent from the bus driver to run K9s on the luggage compartment.  They ran the dogs separately, without either one knowing during the initial search what the other had found, but both dogs alerted on the same suitcase (apparently, the dogs gave a strong alert without giving a final confirmation).

   The officers seized the suitcase, which belonged to Tubens.  They went onto the bus and asked (loudly enough that everyone could hear) for Tubens, but no one came forward.  Since Tubens wasn't identifying himself, they started checking everyone's ticket until they found him.  He claimed that he hadn't heard his name being called, and they asked him to speak to them outside of the bus.

   Tubens admitted that the suitcase belonged to him, and gave consent to search it.  Knowing that drug traffickers often move their stash between their bags to avoid detection, one of the officers asked Tubens if he had any carry-on luggage.  Tubens said that he did not.

   That officer got back onto the bus, and found a couple of items (a CD case and a paper bag) on the luggage rack directly above Tuben's seat.  As he was removing these items, another passenger told him that they had seen Tubens putting something else on the luggage rack and pushing it away from him.  The officer asked the passengers to collect their carry-on items and hold them in their laps.  While they were doing that, he went back out to speak to Tubens.

   Tubens admitted that the CD case and paper bag were his, and consented to their search.  No contraband was found in the suitcase, the CD case, or the paper bag.  The officer who had asked the other passengers to gather their property went back on the bus, and found one more bag which no one had claimed.  He asked if the bag belonged to anyone on the bus, and still no one claimed it.  He took it off the bus with him, and Tubens unequivocally denied that it belonged to him.

   Since no one was claiming it, the bus driver consented to a search of the bag.  Inside, the cops found meth and some prescription bottles with Tubens' name on them.  Tubens was finally arrested (the bus had been stopped for about an hour, but officers had only been talking to Tubens for about 20 minutes).

   Tubens moved to suppress the meth, arguing that the search had violated the Fourth Amendment.  The trial court disagreed, he was convicted by a jury, and then he appealed.

   The Tenth Circuit affirmed his conviction.  The court held that the detention was justified at its inception (simply running the dogs on the luggage compartment doesn't invoke the Fourth Amendment, but when the dogs alerted on the bag that established probable cause.  More than enough to justify a stop), and that it was reasonably related in scope to the circumstances which justified it.  Tubens apparently argued that all the fruitless searches should have been the end of the investigation, but the court held that his evasiveness (both in ignoring the officers when they were asking for him by name and in lying about whether or not he had carry-on luggage) justified the continued detention, as did the witness' account of him hiding a third carry on item.  So no Fourth Amendment violation precipitated the discovery of Tubens' bag.  Further, since Tubens voluntarily abandoned the bag (by claiming that it didn't belong to him), he did not have standing to challenge the warrantless search of the bag itself.

   So now Tubens will have some time to reflect on whatever poor life choices led him to this situation.