Court: UHP Stop Did Not Violate Drug Trafficker’s Rights

In our last post we discussed the appeal of a California man who was arrested in Utah for marijuana possession. The arrest followed a Summit County traffic stop during a saturation patrol by the Utah Highway Patrol.

UHP officers heard from California officials that the marijuana crop would be harvested that November, so they decided to conduct extra patrols in hopes of catching some traffickers.

The California man argued before the Supreme Court of Utah that his stop violated his constitutional right to travel and his equal protection rights. Regarding the man’s right to travel, the court held that the man failed to prove that his right to travel was infringed upon by the UHP’s actions.

“To the extent there was discrimination, it was based on intelligence that suggested marijuana would be transported from California (where it was grown) across Utah on its way east,” the Justices wrote. “So any differential treatment was not based on the “mere fact” that (the defendant) was a citizen of another state, and the right to travel was not implicated even assuming some form of discrimination.”

The state supreme court also decided that the man failed to prove his selective enforcement claim.

A successful selective enforcement claim requires both proof that the UHP policy had a discriminatory effect and a discriminatory purpose. Although it was evident that the UHP patrols resulted in far more out-of-state residents being pulled over, the man was unable to show that this effect was motivated by an improper motivation.

“Preventing drug trafficking across a state is at least a legitimate goal,” the court held, further noting that the increased stops were conducted due to California law enforcement’s tips regarding the marijuana cultivation schedule.

The justices also noted that the “mere conceivability that those driving vehicles licensed outside the state were more likely to be transporting drugs is all that the Equal Protection Clause demands.”

Source: State v. Chettero, 297 P.3d 582728, Utah Adv. Rep. 6, Feb. 15, 2013

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