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State Supreme Court rules search in Cochise County without warrant legal

Gavel and scales

Waiting until you’re on your own property before pulling over for police won’t save you from having you or your vehicle legally searched.

In a unanimous ruling Friday, the Arizona Supreme Court rejected arguments that Cochise County deputies acted illegally when they searched a vehicle that had gone into the driveway of someone’s girlfriend. The justices said even if Anthony L. Hernandez had been invited onto the Willcox property — giving him the same right of privacy had it been his own yard — his failure to stop when the deputies first asked him to pull over meant he effectively invited them onto the property.

“No citizens has a legal right to ignore or defy an officer’s attempt to conduct a lawful traffic stop on a public road,” Justice John Lopez wrote for the court.

Lopez acknowledged that the deputies were initially trying to pull Hernandez over after running a check of his license plate and finding out that his legally mandated liability insurance had expired a month earlier. And that is only a civil violation.

But the justice also said that knowingly failing to comply with a traffic stop is a crime.

In this case, Lopez said, Hernandez did not immediately pull over. Instead, he went up over a curb and ended up in the driveway of his girlfriend’s house.

The deputies said they smelled marijuana. After taking Hernandez into custody they discovered marijuana, methamphetamines and drug paraphernalia.

He eventually was convicted after Cochise County Superior Court Judge James Conologue rejected his bid to have the search declared illegal.

Lopez said where the vehicle came to a stop was adjacent to the back of the house, an area at least partially obstructed from public view. And under normal circumstances, the judge said, someone there would have a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” meaning officers normally would need a warrant.

But Lopez said that it’s not that simple.

“When the officers attempted to stop Hernandez, he had two lawful options: stop on the public road or lead officers onto private property to complete the stop,” the judge explained.

“Contrary to his argument, the Constitution does not provide a third option positing that a driver may decline to stop on a public road and retreat onto private property, which provides a Fourth Amendment sanctuary from the law,” Lopez continued. “The third option is untenable, as it would endanger police officers and the public by incentivizing flight from law enforcement.”

In effect, the judge said, Hernandez effectively consented to the location of the stop by leading the deputies there in his vehicle. And that, Lopez said, meant the decision by the officers to search him and the vehicle were constitutional.

 

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