The 41 grams of heroin discovered in the backseat of a car stopped for speeding should have been suppressed at the driver’s trial because the prosecution failed to show that troopers followed proper procedures for inventory searches, a 4-1 Appellate Division, Third Department, panel ruled Thursday.
The court found that while authorities were not required to offer the state police manual into evidence when showing the 2012 search adhered to procedure, troopers’ “vague explanation” of their decision making offered “meager proof” that the search was reasonable.
Justice Christine Clark (See Profile) wrote in People v. Leonard, 105574, that the testimony of the arresting officer, Trooper Jason Gutowski, “was insufficient to ensure compliance with constitutional mandates.”
“While we agree that officers in the field are to be afforded a certain minimal amount of discretion, the lack of proof here makes it impossible to characterize the trooper’s discretion as consistent with a reasonable standardized procedure,” Clark wrote.
Gutowski testified that he discovered the bag of heroin in a sneaker in a clear plastic bag containing clothing and other items behind Henry Leonard’s seat. Washington County Court Judge Kelly McKeighan (See Profile) refused to suppress the evidence and Leonard pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. He is serving a 10-year sentence.
Dissenting Justice Michael Lynch (See Profile) said while it was not a “model” search, troopers’ testimony showed they followed a “single familiar standard” according to state police rules.
Martin McGuinness of Queensbury represented Leonard.
Assistant Saratoga County District Attorney Ann Sullivan represented the prosecution. The Saratoga district attorney was called in as a special prosecutor due to a conflict of interest that arose in the Washington County district attorney’s office.