The Minnesota Supreme Court has expanded search and seizure protections in civil cases after authorities went beyond their legal rights while collecting evidence to create their case.
The Minnesota Supreme Court ruled in favor of the citizen in two separate cases that limit when a cop can legally search seized property. In the first case, Daniel Garcia-Mendoza was stopped for driving 63 mph in a 60 mph zone. The officer asked Garcia-Mendoza for his vehicle registration and found the car was registered to Ricardo Cervantes-Perez, an alias of Garcia-Mendoza. Daniel procured a Mexican ID showing the alias, but he didn’t have a valid license.
The officer decided to have the vehicle towed because he believed it was creating a traffic hazard. Prior to towing the vehicle, the officer searched the vehicle and found a small amount of methamphetamine. Garcia-Mendoza was arrested, and authorities also seized $611 he was carrying with him at the time.
Garcia-Mendoza filed a claim to regain possession of his car and cash. While he was waiting for the court to process his request, he pleaded guilty to a federal crime of distributing a controlled substance from a 2011 charge. As part of that agreement, he agreed to forfeit all property used to commit the crime.
When it came his turn to challenge the seizure of his car and cash from the latest incident, a District Court judge ruled the stop unconstitutional, but said the forfeiture would remain because of his previous agreement from his guilty plea. His attorney challenged the ruling in Appeals Court, citing the exclusionary rule, but the Appeals Court sided with the District Court.
Garcia-Mendoza’s attorney filed one last appeal with the Minnesota Supreme Court, arguing because the stop was illegal, police should not have been legally able to seize the property. In a monumental decision, the Minnesota Supreme Court sided with the little guy, ruling that the exclusionary rule – a law that states illegally obtained evidence is inadmissible in a criminal trial – must also extend to civil cases.
Another local case extended 4th Amendment protections in regards to searched vehicles that were improperly impounded.
In this case, a Blaine police officer stopped Erica Rohde for a turn signal violation. A subsequent check revealed Rohde was operating the vehicle without a valid license or registration.
When she initially saw the police lights in her rearview mirror, Rohde pulled over to a residential side street. She stopped along the curb in a valid parking spot, but authorities decided to impound her vehicle anyways. Once at the impound lot, police searched the vehicle and found two small bags of meth and two glass pipes.
Rohde challenged the evidence collection, agreeing that although her stop had been legal, the subsequent search was unconstitutional because authorities were not within their right to impound the car. The Minnesota Supreme Court sided with Rohde, noting that her parked vehicle posed no safety threat to other drivers. They sent the case back to Anoka County District Court with the recommendation the evidence be suppressed.
Avery Appelman comments
These are both great rulings for citizens and for our Fourth Amendment protections. In the end, the Minnesota Supreme Court is basically saying, “The ends do not always justify the means.” Even though the officers found drugs in the vehicle, they did not follow individual protections guaranteed by our forefathers in the constitution.
Everyone else has to follow rules at their job. Cops must do the same. In the end, this ruling will make officers better at their job, which everyone will benefit from. I applaud the Minnesota Supreme Court for upholding citizen protections.
Related source: Star-Tribune