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Judges: Traffic Search Was Illegal

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Court Rules In Favor Of Motorist Found With Illegal Drugs

The federal appeals court in Atlanta has found that a South Georgia
deputy made an illegal search when he uncovered 10,000 pills of
Ecstasy after a traffic stop.

In a ruling issued Friday, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said
there was no lawful basis for the deputy to detain Jody James Boyce
long enough to have a drug-sniffing dog brought to the scene. For this
reason, the search that found the Ecstasy and two large containers of
marijuana was illegal, the court said.

"While we recognize that drug trafficking is a serious problem in this
country and we encourage law enforcement agencies to use every
available means to control it, we cannot condone methods that offend
the protections afforded by the Constitution," Judge Stanley Birch
wrote for a unanimous three-judge panel.

Boyce pleaded guilty in July 2002 to possession with intent to
distribute the drugs and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. But his
plea was entered conditionally, because Boyce believes he was
illegally searched and detained.

The appeals court ruling appears to weaken the government's case,
because the drugs can no longer be used as evidence against Boyce.

On the evening of Nov. 2, 2001, Liberty County Deputy David Edwards
pulled over a Dodge Malibu on I-95 after seeing the car weaving and
driving 10 mph under the speed limit.

Boyce, the driver, said he had been on the road for more than 13 hours
and was tired. Boyce said he was driving from New Jersey to Florida
and that he planned to return the following Wednesday, which Edwards
noticed was two days after Boyce's rental car agreement called for the
Malibu to be returned.

Edwards decided to issue Boyce a warning citation and told him to get
back into the car. Seven minutes later, during which Edwards received
a clean license check on Boyce, the deputy asked Boyce to come around
to the back of the Malibu again.

Edwards asked Boyce whether there were any drugs or weapons in the
Malibu. Boyce responded there were none, prompting Edwards to ask if
he could search the car. When Boyce refused, Edwards went back to his
patrol car, called for a drug dog unit and asked Boyce to wait.

When the drug dog arrived, it alerted officers to Boyce's trunk, where
they found the drugs.

In defending the search, federal prosecutors said Edwards had
reasonable suspicions: Boyce was sweating profusely and acting
nervous, and had been driving down a known drug corridor in a rental
car. Additionally, Boyce said he was returning the rental car after it
was due.

But the 11th Circuit, relying on a video recording of the traffic stop
taken from Edwards' patrol car, said Boyce did not appear to be overly
nervous and only once wiped his brow after the traffic stop had gone
on for 20 minutes. Boyce's plan to return his rental car late, coupled
with his driving down a drug corridor, could apply to a considerable
number of people driving on I-95 for "perfectly legitimate purposes,"
the court said.

"This suggests the true reason Edwards chose to detain Boyce was
because Boyce would not consent to a search of his car," said the ruling.

In the decision, the judges said that police cannot prolong a traffic
stop due to a suspect's refusal to consent to a search.

Pubdate: Fri, 28 Nov 2003
Source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution (GA)
Webpage: http://www.ajc.com/metro/content/metro/1103/29search.html
Copyright: 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Contact: conedit@ajc.com
Website: AJC.com: Atlanta Georgia News, AJC Sports, Atlanta Weather