Jan 232010
 January 23, 2010  Posted by  Court, Surveillance, U.S.

When police pulled over a young driver for driving without headlights, he immediately asked for a lawyer. Was asking for a lawyer under such circumstances enough to give the police officer reasonable suspicion to search the car? That’s the question making the rounds in the legal blogosphere this week after Crime Scene KC picked up on the story.  Martha Neil reports on ABA  Journal:

Pulled over in 2008 by a rookie police officer for failing to use headlights at night and running a stop light, Daniel Sanders, who was then 19, asked for an attorney almost immediately, according to court documents.

Finding this suspicious, the Columbia, Mo., officer, Jessica McNabb, searched his car. In the trunk she found a body, later identified as that of Sanders’ 53-year-old mother, next to a brand-new shovel with the price tag still on it, reports the Missourian.

Initially charged with felony evidence tampering in the Boone County Circuit Court case, Sanders was subsequently accused of second-degree murder.

Now, amidst a flurry of incoming pretrial motions, his lawyer is seeking to suppress evidence from the car search, contending that McNabb lacked both probable cause and a warrant. Attorney Christopher Slusher also contends that McNabb violated his client’s constitutional rights by continuing to question Sanders after he asked for counsel, the newspaper reports.

Criminal defense attorney Scott Greenfield notes how invoking right to counsel, which is usually sage advice, seems to have backfired here in that it created suspicion for the rookie police officer, but notes:

While the basic advice remains as accurate as before, there are a few secondary points that bear stating. First, if you’ve got your dead mother in the trunk, try to obey normal traffic rules. It tends to draw less attention. Second, don’t murder your mom. It’s just wrong.

Cases like this present a truly interesting conundrum for courts and observers. Clearly, nobody is going to feel all that terrible about Sanders’ situation, being that there is no doubt as to mom being in the trunk and all. On the other hand, there is no question but that his invocation of rights cannot serve to create probable cause to search, and precludes further questioning. While the law must ultimately prevail, nobody is losing sleep over Sanders’ situation. Except maybe his lawyer.

Photo courtesy of the Columbia Police Department.

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