Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tenth Circuit Provides Oblique Invitation for Suppression Challenges

While the Tenth Circuit's decision today in United States v. Martinez rejected the defendants' arguments about the constitutionality of an officer's stop of their vehicle, there is a glimmer (albeit ever so slight) of hope.

The defendants in Martinez contended that an officer improperly stopped the defendants' vehicle based on alleged license plate violation. The defendants were travelling through Utah in a vehicle without a front license plate; the vehicle did have a proper rear plate, however. The UHP Trooper pulled over the vehicle based on his belief that California law required a front license plate. The Tenth Circuit dismissed the defendants' argument that California law requires only one license plate, and found that the Trooper had reasonable suspicion to effectuate a traffic stop. In an interesting footnote, however, the panel noted that "[d]efendants do not challenge the authority of a Utah police officer to stop a vehicle for violation of an out-of-state equipment requirement... We thus have no occasion to decide whether Utah law permits law enforcement officers to enforce violations of out-of-state license plate requirements."

Admittedly, the footnote does not actually state that the argument is compelling or with some force, but it does provide the opportunity to make this argument in the district court or the Tenth Circuit. As far as litigating in the Tenth Circuit is concerned, the mere fact that an argument is not completely foreclosed by existing precedent is cause for excitement.

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