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Stupid Case File for April 21, 2006

Stupid Laws, Stupid Courts, One Free Man

Thanks again to Appellate Decisions for a story that really frustrates many law enforcement folks.

U.S. v. Herrera, 05-3057 (10th Cir., Apr. 19, 2006)

After a Kansas state trooper pulled over Robert Herrera’s pick-up truck, Herrera was arrested for driving without proof of insurance. In a subsequent inventory search of the vehicle, the trooper discovered 23 kilos of cocaine. Herrera moved to suppress the cocaine, arguing that the stop and subsequent search violated his Fourth Amendment rights, but the district court denied his motion. Herrera was convicted and appealed to the Tenth Circuit.

On appeal, the government argued that the trooper’s actions were lawful under a Kansas statute allowing random administrative searches of commercial vehicles. Here, the trooper believed that Herrera’s pick-up truck qualified as a commercial vehicle because it had a heavy hydraulic lifter on the back and a sign for a painting company on the side. However, the truck was only 10,000 pounds – one pound short of the statutory definition of a commercial vehicle.

Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit rejects the government’s administrative search rationale. It also rejects the government’s argument that the evidence need not be suppressed under U.S. v. Leon, in which the Supreme Court created a good faith exception to the exclusionary rule. The Tenth explains that it has only applied the Leon good faith exception to cases where an officer relied in good faith on a third party’s mistake. Here, the trooper who conducted the unlawful search was the one who made the mistake. Although there may someday be a case in which the Tenth Circuit decides that Leon should apply to an officer’s own mistake, this is not the rare case that justifies extending the good faith exception in this manner. Accordingly, Herrera’s conviction must be vacated, and he’ll likely go free.

2 Comments:

Blogger Malinda777 said...

"Excuse me officer... I'm a minority. Never mind the white powder, it's just flour from making tortillas. Oh, I'm supposed to have insurance?, No Abla English... I have no money, I am discriminated against. Please give me refuge, and let me use your taxpayers money for my trial and appeals to get my poor self free." UUGGHHHHH!!

April 22, 2006 2:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to donate a 1 pound brick to the officer, to be placed in the back of such vehicles in just such a case. This brick, crafted from a suitably weighty metal, will be engraved with the enscription:

'JUSTICE PREVAILS!'

April 17, 2008 11:16 PM  

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