Justices to hear cocaine case
WASHINGTON (AP) ” When B.J. Karpowski overheard the name “Chubs” or “Chub” on a police radio, the alert detective in Portsmouth, Va., put out the word.
Pull the man over, Karpowski advised fellow officers. Someone with the nickname had been released from a federal penitentiary and was driving on a suspended license, Karpowski said.
Karpowski’s colleagues followed up, and then went two steps further. They arrested motorist David Lee “Chubs” Moore and later searched him. They found crack cocaine in Moore’s jacket.
On Monday, the Supreme Court planned to hear arguments on whether Moore’s arrest in coastal Virginia was lawful and whether the cocaine could be used against him as evidence.
Complicating Moore’s case is a Virginia law that directs police to write a ticket and let a motorist go for driving on a suspended license. The fact that Moore was instead arrested raises the question of whether it was constitutional to search Moore.
When a judge asked one of the detectives why Moore had been arrested, the detective replied, “Just our prerogative,” even though it clearly was not under state law.
The trial court convicted Moore on a cocaine charge and sentenced him to five years in prison. Subsequently, Moore’s lawyers won his case in the Virginia Supreme Court, which ruled the search that turned up the cocaine was not consistent with the constitutional right against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Attorneys general from 18 states have lined up in support of Virginia prosecutors. The American Bar Association, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union are siding with Moore.
Just because Moore’s arrest violated state law does not make the search unconstitutional, argues the Virginia attorney general’s office.
To conduct a seizure or search under the Fourth Amendment, the government must have a good reason to do so, Moore’s lawyers say. “Here they have none.”
When detectives initially stopped Moore, he had a dog with him. It was large and “very upset,” and detectives report they “didn’t want to get too close to it.”
After confirming Moore was driving with a suspended license, he was handcuffed. Because of an unexplained miscommunication, the detectives did not immediately search Moore.
They called animal control officers to pick up the dog. Forty-five minutes later, the detectives drove Moore to a hotel room where he had been staying. At that point, they searched him and found the crack cocaine in his jacket.
Later, a Virginia judge asked why Moore was not issued a traffic summons and sent on his way, as required by state law.
“Well, we were still in the middle of the investigation; the investigation was not complete yet,” the detective replied. “We were, pursuant to the traffic stop … also conducting a narcotics investigation.”
Without the alert Karpowski, none of this might have happened.
In one final twist in the case, the man Karpowski had been thinking about when he tipped off the other detectives actually was a different person with an almost identical nickname, Chub.
The case is Virginia v. Moore, 06-1082.