A charge of felony possession of a controlled substance and a misdemeanor charge of possession of drug paraphernalia filed against a Bellevue woman were dismissed Monday, after it was determined by a prosecutor that a search of her vehicle had been done in violation of her Fourth Amendment rights.
Cassandra Sturgeon, 24, was also charged with a second misdemeanor, driving without privileges, after a traffic stop for speeding. According to a probable-cause affidavit written by Bellevue Deputy Marshal Thomas Linton, he placed Sturgeon under arrest on that charge after it was confirmed with dispatch that she had a suspended license. A search of the vehicle then resulted in the discovery of a significant amount of drug paraphernalia, as well as methamphetamine residue.
However, during a preliminary hearing Monday, prosecutor Matt Fredback called the search “unlawful.”
At the time of the arrest, Sturgeon was told that her vehicle would be impounded and that an inventory of the vehicle would be performed. However, a passenger in the vehicle requested to take it rather than it being impounded, Fredback said, but the Bellevue deputy was intent on doing the inventory search.
“I think there’s a Fourth Amendment violation,” Fredback said Monday, stating that the evidence gathered would “clearly [be] suppressible when it comes to the search of the vehicle.”
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that impounded vehicles may be searched without a warrant to protect the owner’s property while it remains in police custody, protect the police against claims or disputes over lost or stolen property and to protect police from potential dangers that may be located in the vehicle.
Fredback said the state had agreed to drop the felony charge and the misdemeanor paraphernalia charge in exchange for a guilty plea to the misdemeanor driving-without-privileges charge.
He said that even though he would not be pursuing the dismissed charges, he hoped that Sturgeon realized that she “caught a big break.”
“If she keeps going back down this road, it’ll just get worse for her,” he said.
Part of the illegally seized paraphernalia included a bong for smoking marijuana, two glass pipes for smoking methamphetamine, numerous syringes and a bent spoon with dirty cotton swabs that tested presumptive positive for methamphetamine.