The New Hampshire Court threw out a drug case after the police obtained consent to search the vehicle through coercion.
FIRST THEY PULL YOU OVER.
Jason Millett was driving a van. His girlfriend Jessica Morrill and their three children were passengers. State Trooper McAulay pulled the van over because it had a license plate registered to a different vehicle. After approaching, Millett produced a valid driver’s license and registration. Apparently this resolved the registration issue. Nevertheless, McAulay continued to poke around and ask questions. McAuley thought that Millet seemed nervous. Millett could not give a straight answer about where he was coming from. Another officer spoke with Morrill and she gave different answers then Millett had.
CONSENT TO SEARCH?
Eventually, McAulay and another Trooper ordered the occupants out of the car. After some back and forth, McAuley asked Millett’s to consent to a search of the van. Millett refused. McAuley then told Millett that he would request a canine to sniff the vehicle. McAuley said that if the dog signaled, he would get a search warrant. After hearing this, Millett agreed to the search. The police found various drugs including cocaine and oxycodone.
The Supreme Court said that this was an illegal search. Generally, the police do not need a search warrant if a subject consents to the search. However, what happened here is that the police prolonged the detention past the point it was justified. They originally detained the van to investigate the license plate issue. They resolved this issue by the time they called for the canine. It was illegal, therefore, to continue to detain the defendants while waiting for the canine. There was nothing further to investigate. Since Millett consented to the search while the police were illegally detaining him, the consent was invalid.
MORAL OF THE STORY – DON’T CONSENT!
As criminal defense lawyers were regularly see cases where our clients have consented to a search. They often do so when the police would otherwise not have had enough probable cause to obtain a search warrant. Whatever the police tell you, you do not have to consent. Never consent to a search without first consulting with an experienced criminal lawyer.