Friday, July 18 2014 12:40 AM EDT2014-07-18 04:40:33 GMT
For decades, police have used the smell of marijuana as probable cause to search cars and people during routine investigative stops. But when pot is legal, can cops still use the aroma of weed to justify a search? More>>
For decades, police have used the smell of marijuana as probable cause to search cars and people during routine investigative stops. But when pot is legal, can cops still use the aroma of weed to justify a search?
LAS VEGAS -- Nevada public safety officials are taking a second look at a drug interdiction stop on 1-15 where state troopers confiscated more than $50,000.
The I-Team has obtained exclusive dash cam video of the incident which is now being reviewed by the high-command of Nevada Highway Patrol to see whether the traffic stop was even valid.
Car passenger: "What are we even stopped for?"
NHP trooper: "It doesn't matter what you're stopped for, you're stopped now and I smell the odor of marijuana in the car. Give it up."
The dash cam video from an NHP cruiser shows a roadside interrogation by a trooper who stopped a car for a traffic violation. The driver of the car admitted to the trooper she had smoked marijuana hours earlier and there might be a small amount still in the car. The trooper then turned his attention to the male passenger in the car.
NHP trooper: "Just hand me the marijuana you got in the car. You got marijuana, she just told me. Where's it at? I'm gonna take you out of this car and put you in handcuffs and put you in the back of my car if you're going to lie to me about it."
"Which is to say, that unless you surrender your Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, compulsory self incrimination, I will place you in custody; a clear constitutional violation, in my opinion," said attorney Vincent Savarese.
He reviewed the dash cam video with the I-Team after it was learned the incident is under administrative review by the highway patrol. Savarese doesn't represent the driver of passenger, but he is an in-house expert on search and seizure for the Gordon-Silver law firm. Savarese is concerned about the trooper's interrogation of the passenger.
"Let alone the fact that he doesn't warn him of his constitutional right to remain silent and not incriminate himself, he's insisting that he does, upon pain of custody. So, I'm very offended by it."
But it's the reason for the traffic stop that has Savarese most concerned. The troopers report says the car was weaving within it's own lane and was stopped after the tires touched the fog line on the right.
NHP trooper: "The reason you're being stopped is because you came out of your travel lane. Your right side tires struck the line on the other side."
Savarese says merely rolling over the fog line is not a traffic violation under Nevada law.
"That's been interpreted to require some demonstration that the driver's impaired by a meaningful cross over of the line or a repetitive one. So, I don't think this stop was permissible in the first place and there is specific case law on that point," Savarese said.
NHP trooper: "I gave you a chance bro."
The trooper ends up removing the passenger after he refuses to acknowledge contraband in the car.
NHP trooper: "Quit moving around or you're gonna go to jail. Do you understand? Quit moving around."
Savarese cannot determine from the video whether more force than necessary was used.
"It did appear to me that he was manhandling him robustly," Savarese said.
The I-Team originally requested this dash cam video from the highway patrol as part of a story on cash seizures by police during drug interdiction traffic stops. The NHP's personnel commander sent the following email: "This case is under administrative review and potential investigation. Therefore, we will be unable to release the video."
The I-Team was able to obtain the video from another source, but the NHP says it can't comment while it's review is ongoing.
Law enforcement sources suggest the NHP review is looking at the issue pointed out by Savarese regarding the validity of the stop. If there's a problem with the stop, it could have a significant impact on this case. Troopers seized less that three ounces of pot but also confiscated $53,000 as suspected drug money.
An invalid stop could result in a judge throwing out any criminal charges in the case and could result in the driver getting her money back. The driver and passenger were allowed to drive away from the traffic stop, but both were later charged with conspiracy to violate the controlled substances act.