Drug Conviction Affirmed Because Defendant Lacked Standing to Challenge Search

Under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, law enforcement officers are not permitted to perform a search of someone’s property without a warrant, reasonable suspicion, or probable cause that the search would reveal evidence of illegal activity. When a police officer performs a search without a warrant or probable cause, any evidence found in the search cannot be admitted in the prosecution of the defendant. The Arizona Court of Appeals recently rejected a defendant’s appeal that challenged the legitimacy of a search that yielded evidence of illegal drugs that led to his conviction.

According to the facts discussed in the appellate opinion, the defendant was a passenger in a car that was stopped for a traffic violation in 2018. Police noticed the defendant was wanted for outstanding warrants, and placed him under arrest for the warrants after confirming his identity. At the time of the stop, the defendant was holding a backpack between his legs. When arresting the defendant, the police asked him if he wanted to take the backpack with him, and he responded that it was not his backpack.

Police inventoried the backpack, and it was later searched. Police found illegal drugs and paraphernalia in the backpack and the defendant was charged with felony drug crimes as a result. Before trial, the defendant challenged the admission of the evidence found in the backpack, claiming that he never consented to the search and that there was not a warrant or probable cause that would justify the police to perform the search without the defendant’s consent. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, ruling that the defendant abandoned any claim to the backpack when he was asked if it belonged to him and that he did not have the right to challenge the search at a later time. As a result of this ruling, the case went to trial, and the defendant was convicted of the crimes he was charged with.

The defendant appealed the evidentiary ruling to the Arizona Court of Appeals, where the lower court ruling was upheld. The Court found that Arizona law gives people no privacy interest in the abandoned property, and since the defendant claimed the property was not his, he had abandoned it. Although the jury necessarily found that the defendant possessed the backpack at the time of the stop in order to convict him, this does not mean that the defendant had a privacy interest in the backpack at the time the search was performed. As a result of these rulings, the defendant’s conviction will stand.

Obtaining Legal Counsel to Defend Against Drug Charges

If you or a loved one has been arrested or charged with an Arizona drug crime, obtaining qualified legal counsel as soon as possible after police begin questioning you will increase your chances of beating the charges against you. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors are experienced in getting criminal defendants to give up their rights and incriminate themselves, and without a skilled Arizona criminal defense attorney by your side, you’ll be at a great disadvantage through the process. The dedicated Arizona criminal defense lawyers at the Law Office of James E. Novak can help mount your defense. If you’ve been accused of a crime, contact us and we’ll start working on your defense today. To schedule a free consultation and discuss your case, call 480-413-1499.


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