Friday, April 17, 2009

Judge disallows evidence in pot bust

Israel determines deputy made improper traffic stop


A judge has ruled that evidence from a marijuana bust in December was obtained following an improper traffic stop and is therefore disallowed in court proceedings against a Ketchum man.

Blaine County Magistrate Court Judge R. Ted Israel ruled on April 7 that "evidence obtained as a result of the stop is suppressed" in a misdemeanor marijuana possession case against Justin F. Leighton, 23. Nonetheless, the charge has not been dismissed and Leighton is still scheduled to appear for a pretrial conference on May 4 and a trial on May 6.

The charge against Leighton stemmed from a Dec. 12, 2008, traffic stop on state Highway 75 north of Bellevue by Blaine County Sheriff's Deputy Corey Weatherly. The sheriff's office reported then that Weatherly smelled marijuana after stopping a vehicle driven by Leighton because the back license plate was obscured by a bike rack.

Israel ruled, however, that the license plate was readable and therefore the traffic stop was unwarranted. The judge wrote in his decision that video and audio information recorded at the traffic stop "supports the proposition that Deputy Weatherly was not mistaken, but simply incorrect in his recollection of what he observed prior to the seizure."

Leighton was later charged with misdemeanor possession of marijuana. However, a passenger in the vehicle, 23-year-old Christopher B. Stuart, of Hailey, was arrested on a felony charge possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver. The sheriff's office reported then that Stuart was only in possession of about 1.4 ounces of marijuana, but that the pot was in small, ready-for-sale packages.

Stuart later accepted a plea agreement with the Blaine County Prosecuting Attorney's Office. In January, he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor possession of marijuana in exchange for dismissal of the felony charge. According to court records, he was sentenced to 44 days in jail, fined $285 and placed on two years probation.

The "motion to suppress" the evidence in the traffic stop was filed by Leighton's attorney, Douglas Werth. Stuart was represented by the Roark Law Firm under its public defender contract with Blaine County.

Terry Smith: tsmith@mtexpress.com




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