Wednesday, July 30th, 2008

Car Trouble

United States v. Delossantos, No. 06-4713-cr (2d Cir. July 25, 2008) (Feinberg, Miner, Parker, CJJ)

Marino Delossantos was a drug dealer, who was negotiating a deal with an undercover officer. While Delossantos was under surveillance, defendant Rodriguez was seen at the building where Delossantos lived ,and also drove him to and from various locations related to the drug deal. Rodriguez was arrested at the end of one such trip; he made statements and gave consent to search his apartment and car, where officers found drugs and other evidence. He moved to suppress the statements and evidence as the fruit of an illegal arrest, and the district court granted the motion, holding that no probable cause for the warrantless arrest of Rodriguez.

On the government’s appeal, the circuit reversed, holding that the agents had probable cause to arrest Rodriguez without a warrant, based on the available facts. A car passenger is often engaged in a “common enterprise” with the driver, and it is “reasonable” for an officer to “infer that if one person in a vehicle is engaged in drug dealing, so are the other[s].”

Nor was the court impressed with Rodriguez’ efforts to qualify or explain the individual facts upon which probable cause rested. Those explanations, even though “persuasive in varying degrees,” do not alter the existence of probable cause because the facts must be considered in their totality, and in light of the “training and experience of the arresting agents.”

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