Houlon Berman Managing Partner Richard A. Finci successfully argued recently in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County for the suppression of a four pound package of marijuana, which was recovered from the trunk of his client’s vehicle after a traffic stop. Although it was apparent that the client was under prior surveillance, police stopped his vehicle claiming that the front seat passenger was not wearing a seatbelt. During the stop, the vehicle alerted a police K-9 dog, a search ensued and the package of marijuana was recovered from the trunk.
Dash cam video was obtained and, upon close and careful review and enhancement, the video showed that when the car was stopped, the passenger could be seen removing his seat belt. The State argued that the passenger must have pulled on his seat belt after the officer’s seat belt observations. The State also argued that the underlying surveillance, which arose from a tip provided by a United States Postal Inspector regarding an unspecified suspicious package from California, was too vague and did not rise to the level of sufficient suspicion to justify the stop. The Court ruled that the State had not met its burden to justify the stop as a traffic violation stop, simply not accepting the testimony that the passenger had not had his seat belt on. Finally, the Court ruled that the fact that the Client had voluntarily parked his car in a shopping center parking lot prior to the approach of the officers was not important since the officers surrounded his vehicle, demanded and held on to his driver’s license and he was not free to leave during this time.
The State declined to appeal the Court’s ruling, promptly dismissed the case and the client avoided a one year mandatory minimum sentence as a repeat offender.