Court voids this police search

(SALT LAKE CITY) -- The Utah Court of Appeals on Thursday unanimously affirmed constitutional protections against illegal search and seizure by ruling that Salt Lake City police officers lacked reasonable suspicion when they detained a woman and later arrested her for drug possession.

Pearl Topanotes was standing in front of her Salt Lake City home in October 1998 when two officers approached and asked to see her identification card, said lawyer Linda Jones, who defended Topanotes on appeal.

One of the officers held Topanotes' ID while he ran a background check that showed outstanding warrants. He arrested her on the warrants and, during a search, found heroin. Topanotes was convicted of possession charges.

On appeal, Topanotes argued that 3rd District Judge Leslie Lewis wrongly admitted the drug discovery into evidence. Jones said the officers lacked "reasonable articulate suspicion" to detain her by keeping her ID.

Judge William Thorne, writing for the three-judge panel, agreed that Topanotes was illegally held by police. However, he sent the case back to the trial court to determine if, under the "inevitable discovery" rule, the drug would have been found anyway. Under the rule, drug evidence could be admitted into evidence if "the prosecution can establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the information ultimately would have been discovered by lawful means."

Thursday's ruling does not break new legal ground, but parallels a March 2 appellate court opinion that also involved a lower court's ruling on an illegal search and seizure issue.

In that case, also heard by Lewis, the appellate court threw out the drug paraphernalia conviction of a woman who was illegally held by police.

Like Topanotes, Carolyn L. Ray was standing in front of a convenience store when she was confronted by Salt Lake City police officers who asked to see her identification card. The officers also detained her by holding the ID card while running her name for any outstanding warrants. Upon finding no warrants, one officer asked Ray if he could check her bag, where he found drug paraphernalia, court records show.

In ruling Ray's detention a violation of her Fourth Amendment rights, the appellate court rejected the state's contention that Ray could have left any time she wanted.

"Given the totality of the circumstances, it is clear that a reasonable person in Ray's position would not feel free to just walk away, thereby abandoning her identification, let alone to approach [the officer], take back her identification and then leave," Judge James Z. Davis wrote.

(iSyndicate; The Salt Lake Tribune; Nov. 10, 2000). Terms and Conditions: Copyright(c) 2000 LEXIS-NEXIS, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights Reserved.

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