Although the U.S. Supreme Court refuses to take up the vast majority of cases, there are hopes that its fancy will be tickled by one that involves salmon stuffed to their gills with dope.
No, these fish were not high in any sense. They were dead, frozen and vacuum-packed before six pounds of cannabis were hidden in their innards, and they were dispatched to Baton Rouge and seized by the cops. The recipient of the incriminating package, Jacson Moore, is now asking the U.S. Supreme Court to rule that prosecutors cannot use it as evidence against him.
A unique case involving a marijuana-stuffed salmon and a Baton Rouge man facing drug and gun…
Louisiana judges have split 2-2 on the issue, and the state Supreme Court denied writs. Since this leaves a significant constitutional question unanswered, the U.S. Justices might be tempted to weigh in. Besides, the case offers ample opportunities for little jokes from the bench; a state Supreme Court judge has already wondered whether the fish grab “passes the smell test,” and some light relief might be welcome in Washington, too.
Baton Rouge police were staking out the UPS depot in Port Allen in 2012 when they noticed a package from Oakland, California, which is evidently the source of many illegal drug shipments. The package was addressed to Moore, who has a police record that would heighten suspicions that drugs were inside.
The police department, of course, has sniffer dogs that could have settled the issue, but K-9 was not called in. Neither was a search warrant applied for. The cops just kept tabs.
Moore retrieved the package from his doorstep, re-emerging a little later with a Styrofoam container he put in the trunk of his car. He then drove off on an erratic path that indicated he was “heat checking” — trying to make sure the cops weren't on his tail. But they were, and, after 15 zigzagging minutes, he was pulled over.
Marijuana-stuffed salmon confiscated by Baton Rouge police in 2012 are at the center of a un…
A rule of thumb might be that an offender with contraband in his car is best advised not to consent to a search, but Moore did so after being told that the police who stopped him were investigating an armed robbery. He evidently figured that nobody seeking the fruits of a heist would look twice at a few frozen members of the finny tribe.
When the cops did, he said the fish were a present from his aunt. Officers cut them open and found the dope. Moore also gave them permission to search his apartment, where they found more cannabis and a gun.
It seems odd that a suspect savvy enough to check the heat would fail to consider the possibility that the police were lying about why they wanted to search his car. But, Moore now seeks to beat the rap on grounds that he was deceived into waiving his Fourth Amendment rights.
A trial judge ruled that the fish were illegally seized and were thus inadmissible, but the appeal court voted 2-1 to reverse, finding, without explaining its reasons, that the cops' misrepresentation did not “vitiate the defendant's consent.”
The state Supreme Court punted, but two of the justices, Scott Crichton and John Weimer, wrote that the case raised such important issues that it should have been accepted. Crichton made the little crack about the smell test.
The U.S. Supreme Court 90 years ago made it clear that citizens, when in their cars, have a diminished right to be secure against unreasonable searches and seizures because they can quickly leave the scene and are in plain view anyway. Under the so-called “automobile exemption” to the Fourth Amendment, the police do not need a warrant if they have probable cause to believe evidence of a crime is inside.
Evidently, this case did not meet the criteria for the automobile exemption, and the dispute boils down to whether the cops can conduct a warrantless search after hornswoggling the driver. In his dissent, Crichton notes that the jurisprudence gives cops license to lie “slightly,” but where to draw the line between a little untruth and a whopper might be a vexed question.
Maybe the U.S. Supreme Court will have an angle.