Jackson v. State: Chief Judge Vaught Sends A Message!

21 09 2012

In Jackson v. State, the Arkansas Court of Appeals affirmed a conviction for possession of marijuana with intent to deliver.  However, Chief Judge Vaught took the opportunity to write a concurring opinion that heavily criticized the officers involved and the trial court.

Below are quotes from Chief Judge Vaught’s three primary problems with this case:

  • First, the bulk of the officer’s time spent during the stop involved his investigation of the validity of a rental contract and its accompanying coverage. A contract concerns civil law, not criminal law. It is inappropriate for the government to use its immense Fourth Amendment powers to investigate a contract.
  • Second, for an officer to claim (and worse, for a trial court to accept) that it is reasonable to be suspicious that criminal activity is afoot because the officer observed a road atlas in a vehicle traveling out of state on an interstate highway is ludicrous. To the contrary, having an atlas (or some sort of global-positioning system) is to be expected and offers not even a hint of criminality.
  • Third, I have watched the video recording of this stop. I saw the dog circle the vehicle several times. I heard the officer encouraging the dog that he could find it. I did not, however, see any indication that the dog alerted or altered its behavior in anyway. In fact, the officer’s last words to the dog were confirming that the dog had not alerted. However, the trial court saw the same tape and reached a different factual conclusion. I believe my interpretation of the dog search is validated by what happened after the dog “alerted.” Although the officer at that point would have probable cause to search, he did not do so. Instead, he further interrogated appellant. In what I think is best described as a probablecause “bluff,” the officer claimed that the dog had alerted then encouraged appellant to “help” the dog out and admit if there were drugs in the vehicle. This led to the roadside statement, which the court later found inadmissible. If the dog had alerted, and the officer believed it then (as he claimed that he did at trial), the dog would need no “help” from appellant to initiate a search. That’s rather the point of the dog alerting.

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