Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Trial witness attempts to avoid drug charges

Express Staff Writer

Bruno Santos Dominguez Photo by Willy Cook

Facing felony drug charges, Bruno Santos Dominguez arrived in court last week in an attempt to suppress evidence collected by police officers during a routine traffic stop. At the Friday, Feb. 18 hearing, 5th District Judge Robert Elgee affirmed the traffic stop was justified, but opted to further review the facts concerning police conduct before delivering a decision on the matter.

Santos Dominguez faces felony drug charges that resulted from a traffic stop on Oct. 30 in Hailey. Last fall, he entered a plea of not guilty to the charges and faces a trial on March 30.

Defense attorney Doug Werth argued to suppress evidence found during a traffic stop, during which Santos Dominguez was a passenger, due to the nature of the stop and alleged police behavior.

"The police conduct in this case crossed the line," Werth argued.

Werth argued the initial stop concerning a white light visible from the rear of the vehicle did not constitute a lawful stop. He also argued that after the vehicle was pulled over, the police exceeded the scope of permissible conduct by unreasonable extending their search of the vehicle and of his client.

The attorney called the incident a "freebie search of a traffic stop."

He stated that an officer involved unlawfully seized Santos Dominguez identification card and unlawfully searched his wallet. Werth's argument centered on the understanding that unlawful police behavior provided reason to dismiss the drug evidence found during the search.

Elgee concluded the traffic stop was legal, but acknowledged possible misconduct by police officers. He decided to further review testimony before offering a written decision.

The case is complicated by the involvement of Santos Dominguez, a Mexican national, with the suspect in the 2003 double homicide of Alan and Diane Johnson in Bellevue. At the time of the murders, Santos Dominguez dated the Johnsons' teenage daughter, Sarah Johnson. Johnson currently is on trial in Boise, accused of two counts of first degree murder.

During the murder investigation, the government deported Santos Dominguez. He later returned to the United States with special permission from the government to serve as a witness at the trial.

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