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High Court Invalidates Ringleader's Challenge of Illegal Stop of Courier


June 1993

Drug trafficking co-conspirators do not have a legitimate expectation of privacy in each others' cars and other property, the Supreme Court ruled May 3 (Joan Biskupic, "Ringleader Can't Contest Illegal Stop Of Courier, Supreme Court Rules," Washington Post, 5/4/93, A9) (U.S. v. Padilla, -- U.S. -- , 53 Crim.L.Rep.2109)

The high court held that the leader of a drug conspiracy cannot challenge an illegal stop of one of his couriers. In the case under review, Arizona state police illegally stopped and searched a drug courier, finding 560 pounds of cocaine in the trunk of a car. Prosecutors later tied the cache to drug ringleaders.

The court rejected a federal appeals court ruling that said because the drug ringleaders controlled and supervised the car in which the cache was found, they were entitled to assert a privacy interest in it. This interest gave them the right to challenge use of evidence obtained in an illegal search of such a vehicle. In rejecting that ruling, the Supreme Court held that it would lead to numerous situations in which drug ringleaders would be exonerated based on the exclusion of evidence. Fourth Amendment protection applies only to those whose rights are directly infringed by an illegal search and seizure, the court held, "not by those who are aggrieved solely by the introduction of damaging evidence."