Judge: Traffic stop in drug case valid
The search of a car being driven by Henry M. Clinton-Aimable, 27, of Springfield, Mass., turned up more than $14,000 worth of heroin and crack cocaine, Bennington police said. His lawyer later argued that police didn't have probable cause to detain him and the search warrant was invalid.
Judge David A. Howard, in a decision issued Feb. 9, wrote that the search warrant on the car "based on facts and issued with probable cause. The court found no prior illegality from the stop and detention that would taint the warrant."
Clinton-Aimable was extradited to Vermont months after the traffic stop and search. He pleaded not guilty in Bennington criminal court in May to single felony counts of trafficking heroin and crack cocaine. He is being held on $100,000 bail.
A Bennington officer received a tip on July 29, 2016 of a car that might be involved in drug activity. Police stopped a silver Ford sedan on South Main Street (Route 7) after the driver didn't use a turn signal. The rental car's Indiana registration was expired and was for a white Kia sedan, according to a court affidavit.
Officers ordered Clinton-Aimable out of the car and questioned him about the odor of marijuana. He turned over a bag with 4.5 grams of marijuana, a civil violation that carries a fine under state law. When asked whether there was anything else in the car, he told police he would not agree to a search. Police seized the car and obtained a warrant to search it the next day. Found concealed in the trunk was 11.5 grams of suspected heroin and 69 grams of suspected crack cocaine.
A stop for a traffic violation "would justify a brief, routine detention long enough to write citations," defense attorney Jeffrey Rubin, representing Clinton-Aimable, wrote in a motion to suppress in December. Rubin also wrote that the tip was "admittedly insufficient to establish probable cause."
Howard addressed that in his decision. Police were told the driver would be the son of a local man known for being involved with drugs, he wrote. Clinton-Aimable is not that man's son and "was never asked about that relationship issue during the detention." An officer learned there was no relationship "months later," he wrote.
Howard, in denying the motion to suppress, wrote that police had grounds to stop the car based on the violation he saw and that "further information and observations supported police" ordering him to exit the vehicle: Officers smelled marijuana emanating from the car; the driver "appeared excessively nervous" and "gave conflicting information about his travels and made the abrupt and unusual reverse in direction."
Ed Damon can be reached at email@example.com, at @edamon_banner on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 111.
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