Drug case dismissed after state court ruling
February 13, 2014
The Nevada Supreme Court has dismissed Carson City’s appeal of a ruling that threw out evidence in a drug case because deputies forced their way into a motel room against the occupant’s wishes.
That effectively ends the attempt to prosecute Toni Marie Hardin on methamphetamine charges.
District Judge Todd Russell agreed with defense counsel Ben Walker that the manager and owner of the Desert Hills Motel didn’t have the authority to overrule Hardin’s refusal to let deputies enter the room in May of last year.
That ruling could have widespread implications since law enforcement has routinely relied on hotel and motel managers to permit room searches in criminal cases.
But its impact isn’t clear at this point because the high court, in dismissing the appeal, didn’t deal with the substance of Russell’s ruling. Instead, the justices tossed the appeal because the DA’s office failed to file a notice of appeal with the Supreme Court within five judicial days after Russell ruled. The office filed notice with the district court but statute requires it also file with the Supreme Court, which would hear the appeal.
While it doesn’t deal with the substance of the issue, Walker said the ruling means Hardin can’t be prosecuted since sheriff’s deputies don’t have any evidence to support charges.
“Once their appeal got dismissed, that was the end of the case,” Walker said.
The March 18 trial date has been vacated but the DA’s office hasn’t officially filed to dismiss the charges. Walker said if they don’t do so soon, he will file the motion himself.
When deputies originally went to the room, they weren’t looking for Hardin but a suspect in another case who was supposedly in the room next door to Hardin’s. Occupants in that room directed Deputy Sam Hatley to Hardin’s room but when he asked to search for the other man, Hardin refused, telling him to get a warrant.
Instead, Hatley got permission from the motel manager and owner and deputies forced their way through the door.
Once inside, Tri-Net Detective Charles Stetler saw and tested what appeared to be methamphetamine residue in the bathroom. At that point, they contacted Justice of the Peace John Tatro and got a warrant.
A search revealed 40 grams of methamphetamine in Hardin’s backpack.
Walker argued that entry into the room and the subsequent search violated Hardin’s Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable search and seizure.
“At the time of Hatley’s warrantless entry, Hardin still had a reasonable expectation of privacy in the room,” Walker argued.
“A citizen’s assertion of her constitutional rights may not be deemed tantamount to a reasonable belief that she has committed a felony,” he said quoting a 1980 Nevada high court case.