Cocaine found in a suitcase at the Salt Lake International Airport should not have been used as evidence in court because police had no right to search the luggage, the Utah Court of Appeals has decided.
In an opinion released Friday, Judges Norman H. Jackson and Gregory K. Orme said police had no reason to be suspicious of Mark Joseph Sery when they saw him step off a flight from Florida and wander nervously around the airport. They detained Sery without probable cause and violated his constitutional rights, the judges said.Therefore, Sery should be allowed to change his plea and the court should not allow the cocaine as evidence, the judges said.
Sery originally pleaded no contest and was sentenced in 1986 to no more than five years in the state prison. The sentence was stayed and he was placed on probation for 18 months.
But, in a strongly worded dissenting opinion also released Friday, Judge Richard C. Davidson said the court is telling law officers to leave people alone unless they have more than a suspicion that a crime is being committed.
"This case should stand as a model of proper police procedure and a demonstration of the step-by-step development of reasonable suspicion," he said.
Davidson said the arresting officer had years of experience arresting people on similar charges. The officer relied on that experience when deciding whether there was reason to suspect Sery.
The officers, one an agent with the Utah Narcotics and Liquor Enforcement Bureau and the other a sergeant in the Miami Police Department, stopped Sery once but let him go after he told officers he would rather they didn't search his carry-on bag.
Later, the officers detained Sery after checking his airplane ticket and finding that the telephone number he had given when buying the ticket had been changed to an unpublished number.
They put his blue suitcase in a lineup with other luggage and ordered a trained dog to sniff for drugs. The dog picked out Sery's suitcase.
The officers then arrested Sery and obtained a warrant to search the suitcase. They found cocaine inside.