PARK CITY — There is not enough evidence to show the Utah Highway Patrol violated the constitutional rights of a man facing drug-related charges who contends the UHP has improperly targeted vehicles with out-of-state license plates.
Third District Judge Bruce Lubeck ruled that Joseph Bravo of San Francisco failed to prove he had been singled out or discriminated against during a UHP drug interdiction on a portion of I-80.
Bravo's attorney, Gerry D'Elia, argued before Lubeck last month regarding a motion to get evidence dismissed for Bravo because, D'Elia claimed, Bravo had been subjected to illegal selective enforcement.
D'Elia said during oral arguments last month that the UHP's actions violated Bravo's right to freedom of travel (First Amendment), protection from illegal seizures (Fourth Amendment) and equal protection under the law (14th Amendment).
D'Elia said Monday he filed a motion asking the judge to reconsider the portion of his ruling on the equal protection issue.
The UHP conducted a drug interdiction exercise Nov. 14-16, 2008, to intercept drug trafficking, particularly of marijuana, that was being moved from California across Utah to eastern parts of the United States. The exercise was scheduled then to coincide with the harvest cycle for marijuana.
D'Elia contended during oral arguments that the interdiction on eastbound I-80 east of the U.S. 40 junction showed troopers stopped 144 vehicles, with 136 of them bearing out-of-state plates.
In turn, Summit County prosecutor Paul Christensen responded that four different UHP troopers testified under oath they had legitimate, traffic-related reasons for pulling vehicles over. The troopers searched for drugs only after they smelled alcohol or marijuana and found marijuana themselves or with the help of drug-sniffing dogs.
The judge ruled that Bravo's Fourth Amendment rights had not been violated.
"Even if the trooper's primary motivating factor as part of the UHP's drug interdiction was stopping out-of-state vehicles, because the defendant was stopped for committing a traffic violation, there was probable cause, which justified the traffic stop," the judge wrote in a 24-page opinion.
Nor did the UHP deprive anyone of the right to travel, Lubeck said.
"At no point did the state prevent defendant from entering or leaving Utah due to his traffic violation," the ruling said.
In addition, Bravo has not shown any evidence that the UHP has failed to stop vehicles with Utah plates for similar traffic violations.
The high numbers of vehicles with out-of-state plates pulled over during the interdiction exercise does not include any figures regarding how many Utah driver's violated traffic laws during that same time.
Lubeck also rejected the idea that Bravo was illegally singled out.
"Defendant fails to provide support for his presumption that a driver with an out-of-state vehicle is a discrete and identifiable classification akin to a race-, ethnicity-, or religion-based classification," the ruling said.
Lubeck also wrote that there is no evidence that a trooper, faced with a Utah driver and an out-of-state driver committing the same traffic offense, would pull the out-of-state person over and not the Utahn.
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