Disallowed evidence forces state to drop charges on Rodriguez
The State of Nebraska’s case against Joshua Rodriguez was decided by a jury trial this Tuesday, April 30 in Cheyenne County Court.
The jury of six found Rodriguez not guilty of driving with a suspended license.
Rodriquez had initially been charged with operating a motor vehicle during a period of suspension (a Class 3 misdemeanor,) possession of less than one once of marijuana and possession of drug paraphernalia in his vehicle (both infractions.)
But according to court documents, his defense counsel, Sidney attorney Donald Miller, moved to suppress the seized evidence on March 25 from the trial.
Miller said that the state trooper who stopped Rodriguez and seized items from his vehicle following a traffic stop was in violation of the defendant’s fourth and fourteenth amendment rights in the U.S. Constitution and sections 3,7 and 12 in article 1 of the Nebraska Constitution.
According to the documents, the attorney said that Rodriguez was stopped, seized and detained without probable cause and without reasonable suspicion.
He also said that the officer searched the automobile in violation of Rodriguez’s constitutional rights, and that the “defendant had a reasonable expectation of privacy in his person and property.”
Miller continued that Rodriguez was searched and seized without a warrant and did not consent to the searching of his vehicle.
“The officer did not have exigent circumstances to justify the seizure and search, and following the improper stop, seizure and search, the officer seized certain items,” said Miller in the court documents. “The evidence seized could be used at trial and were obtained in violation of the defendant’s rights.”
Miller stated that the trooper who stopped Rodriguez had no reason to run a computer check on the defendant’s vehicle and that the statements made by the defendant at the time of the traffic stop were incriminating.
According to court documentation the defendant argued that it was a case of racial profiling and that the trooper saw what he looked like before deciding to run his license plate.
The defendant testified that he was half black and half white, according to the documents.
He also said that he was unaware that he had a suspended license at the time.
Court documents state that the event in question happened on December 13, 2012 at approximately 10:50 p.m. when both the trooper and the defendant were filling up their vehicles with gas at the Shell gas station, also known as Sapp Brothers, in Sidney.
It’s stated that the defendant went inside the gas station to pay for his gas and upon exiting the building and returning to his car, the defendant said that the trooper stared at him and “glared.”
The defendant said that he saw two other cars at the gas station with Nebraska plates, but the trooper said he didn’t recall them.
The trooper said it was “common practice” for him to run a Nebraska license plate through the NCJIS computer in his patrol vehicle when stopped and getting gas.
According to reports, the officer pulled out of his gas station stall and parked at another one by Rodriguez and ran the license plate of the maroon minivan the defendant was filling up.
The trooper saw a red flag next to Rodriguez’s name in the computer which could have meant multiple things: an expired driver’s license, a suspended license, an arrest warrant or a protection order.
He confirmed with the station that Rodriguez had a suspended license and that his license had been “revoked by the Director of the Nebraska Department of Motor Vehicles on July 13, 2012.” He also confirmed that the owner pictured on the computer looked like the defendant.
The trooper then followed Rodriguez as he drove away and pulled him over.
Presiding Judge Randin Roland decided that the case was not one of racial profiling, but instead that the defendant was pulled over for a suspended license.
The judge also suppressed the collected evidence and defendant’s statements during the traffic stop from being used during the trial.
He suppressed the seized items “based on the state having the burden and not providing evidence to show how the defendant’s rights were not violated in reference to the search,” according to court documents.
Cheyenne County Deputy Attorney Charlotte Hood represented the State of Nebraska during the case and moved to dismiss counts II and III (possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia.)
Her reasoning being that the “ruling on the motion to suppress left remaining insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction on (those counts.)”
Roland passed Hood’s motion and the counts were dismissed.
Twenty-five jurors appeared in court on April 30 to make a decision on the case, and the jurors chosen out of the 25 found Rodriguez not guilty of the only count left standing – driving with a suspended license.