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Independent Corroboration Gives Police Probable Cause for Search of Vehicle and Passengers

A man suspected of drug crimes was stopped only on a seat belt violation but was removed from his car, handcuffed, and transported to a police station, where he and his car were searched - all without a warrant. The Illinois Appellate Court concluded that this police activity was allowed under the Fourth Amendment, since the police had independently corroborated evidence from an informant that gave them probable cause to believe the man and his car were involved in criminal activity.

A man suspected of drug crimes was stopped only on a seat belt violation but was removed from his car, handcuffed, and transported to a police station, where he and his car were searched - all without a warrant. The Illinois Appellate Court concluded that this police activity was allowed under the Fourth Amendment, since the police had independently corroborated evidence from an informant that gave them probable cause to believe the man and his car were involved in criminal activity.

Chicago Police successfully arrested George Kasp for delivering heroin to a police informant. After his arrest, Kasp offered to cooperate with police and named Jose Contreras as his drug supplier, although Kasp knew only Contreras' first name. Kasp also indicated that Contreras traveled in a gold 1998 Cadillac Catera. The police later identified the Cadillac in question and pulled it over because the occupants were not wearing their seat belts.

Despite having neither an arrest warrant nor a search warrant, the police ordered Contreras and his companion from the car and handcuffed them. The police transported the men and the car to a nearby police station. A drug dog alerted on the Cadillac, and the police began a search, whereupon they located a secret compartment in the car. The compartment contained drugs and $21,000 in cash. The police had no search warrant for the dog's examination of the car or the physical search of the vehicle.

At trial, Contreras challenged the evidence against him, arguing it should be suppressed as the result of an illegal search. The trial court agreed and suppressed the evidence. The state appealed that ruling, and its appeal proved successful.

The state argued that the police had probable cause to pull the car over and, once they did, the law allowed them to search the vehicle, regardless of whether they did so at the location of the stop or at the police station. Contreras, on the other hand, argued that the police did not have sufficient probable cause to search the Cadillac at either location.

The appeals court explained that the law treats automobiles differently under the Fourth Amendment because of their escapability. Under the automobile exception, the police may conduct a search, even without a warrant, if they have probable cause "to believe the automobile contains evidence of criminal activity subject to seizure."

The police's stop of Contreras on the seat belt violation was not, by itself, enough to give them the legal authority to search the men or the car. However, the police had more than just the seat belt violation. They had the information from Kasp, which they had corroborated through independent sources, namely other officers. This probable cause gave the police the right to search the car and any compartment in it.

The appeals court also upheld the police's relocation of the car to the station. That action did not destroy the police's legal authority to perform a warrantless search. Moving the car to the station did not change the court's Fourth Amendment analysis because "probable cause that develops at the scene still [exists] at the station house."

Defending against drug charges often involves many elements, including suppressing evidence obtained illegally. For zealous representation in your drug case, consult the experienced DuPage County drug crimes attorneys at Martin & Kent. Our attorneys have the knowledge and ability to help you pursue the best defense strategy for you

Contact us online or by calling (888) 388-9151 to schedule your confidential initial consultation at no charge.

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