Judge rules that police search of car was illegal; drug charges against two women are dropped
NORTH ADAMS — A judge has dismissed drug charges against two women after ruling that a police search of their vehicle was illegal.
The women, Jennifer Rose, of Pittsfield, and Nicole Hurley, of North Adams, were tailed by state Trooper Zachary Wood from Cummington to Adams on March 14 before being pulled over because the vehicle's headlights were not on during a light rain.
During the stop, officers questioned women inside Rose's Mazda MPV, ordered them to exit the vehicle, and eventually located 369 bags of heroin and a small bag of cocaine.
Ruling on a motion to suppress evidence filed by attorneys for Hurley and Rose, Northern Berkshire District Court Judge Paul Vrabel agreed said Wood was justified in initially stopping the vehicle.
However, Vrabel wrote that Wood had no legal basis to order Rose, who had no warrants for her arrest and a valid license, and the other occupants to exit the vehicle during such an "uneventful" traffic stop.
"After Rose had complied with the usual requirements associated with a civil violation," Vrabel ruled, "she and the other occupants of the van should have been allowed to promptly go on their way."
Based on witness testimony, including Wood's, Vrabel wrote that officers did not see or detect any contraband before ordering the occupants to exit the vehicle and the occupants did not behave in a suspicious manner.
Though Wood noted in his police report that he had stopped the same car the previous week for unlicensed operation, Vrabel noted in his decision that Rose was able to provide a valid license when stopped in Adams on March 14.
Questioning the occupants about where they had been and their purchases at the Holyoke Mall was "not commensurate with the purpose of the stop," Vrabel wrote. The officers also did not testify that they were concerned for their own safety, which would have been another valid reason to order the women outside.
"While it does not take much to justify an exit order, it does take something," Vrabel wrote.
Charges against Rose of operating under the influence of drugs, a motor vehicle lights violation, unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, possession of a class A drug, and conspiracy to violate drug law were dismissed. Hurley's charges of possession to distribute a class A drug, possession to distribute a class B drug, subsequent offense, and conspiracy to violate drug law were dismissed for a failure to prosecute.
Vrabel's decision was issued June 21, but Rose's charges were not formally dismissed until July 18 and charges against Hurley were dismissed on Friday.
Contact Adam Shanks at 413-496-6376.
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