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Drug conviction thrown out after court finds no probable cause

Due process rights matter. Legal violations that some call “technicalities” are the law for a reason. Police officers who are eager to make an arrest may violate a suspect’s rights. Without rules that restrict most evidence allowed at trial to that which was obtained legally, innocent people could go to jail or prison.

A Michigan man has won his appeal of a drug conviction based on a 2012 traffic stop in another state. The appellate court ruled that police did not have probable cause to pull over the suspect’s vehicle, so evidence seized during the stop was “fruit of the poisonous tree” -- that is, inadmissible in court.

The defendant was driving in Wisconsin when he was pulled over. An officer there said he stopped the defendant because he did not have a license plate on the front of his vehicle. The vehicle had an air freshener and a GPS device, and the officer claimed that those objects were obstructing the windshield, providing further probable cause to detain the driver.

However, while it is against the law not to have a front license plate in Wisconsin, it is allowed in Michigan. The defendant argued at trial that the officer lacked probable cause to pull him over, so that marijuana and a scale seized from his vehicle were not admissible. But the judge allowed the evidence, so the defendant pleaded guilty and appealed.

The appellate court agreed with the defendant. The judges found that the officer should not have pulled him over because of the lack of license plate, and the presence of an air freshener and GPS. They threw out the drug trafficking conviction.

Source: WTAQ-TV, “Appeals court tosses drug conviction against Michigan man,” May 9, 2014

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