Utah Supreme Court Upholds Drug Possession Conviction

The Utah Supreme Court recently affirmed a man’s conviction of methamphetamine possession by finding that a deputy did not improperly extend the duration of the man’s detention during a traffic stop.

Every Utah resident has a constitutional protection against unreasonable searches and seizures. This right is implicated during traffic stops in which police officers will often question individuals on matters unrelated to the traffic stop.

Generally, officers are not entitled to improperly extend the duration of a traffic stop to fish for evidence of other crimes such as drug possession. What constitutes an improper detention is murky and can often be a determining factor in whether a person’s conviction is thrown out. If a court finds that a traffic stop was improperly extended, it will often throw out all evidence found as a result of the illegal detention.

In this case, the defendant was a passenger in a car which was pulled over by a Utah Highway Patrol Deputy on SR-77 near Springville. The deputy claims that the car was going 10 miles over the speed limit. The deputy also ran a check on the car and found out that it was uninsured.

During the traffic stop he deputy suspected that the driver may have been impaired. The deputy also noticed several baggies of white powder that had been chewed on, which he believed were drugs.

He then asked the passenger whether he had any drug paraphernalia on his person, and the passenger admitted to having a pipe, which he produced.

The court found that the momentary question during the traffic stop did not constitute an impermissible extension of the passenger’s detention given the entirety of the circumstances.

The man’s conviction was therefore affirmed. He has placed on a five year suspended prison term with 36 months of probation.

Source: State v. Simmons, 296 P.3d 721, 726 Utah Adv. Rep. 32, Jan. 25, 2013

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