State Supreme Court to consider if police had right to search car

By BEA LEWIS, for The Laconia Daily Sun

LACONIA — Nearly two years after a city man was arrested on drug sales charges, the New Hampshire Supreme Court will have to decide what evidence if any, can be used against Peter Dauphin during his trial.

Dauphin, 43, could face a maximum sentence of up to life imprisonment if found guilty, because of a prior conviction for selling drugs. He has pleaded not guilty, and remains free on $65,000 cash bail.

At issue in the case is the Laconia Police Department's policy of doing an "inventory" search of vehicles before they are towed. The purpose of the policy which mirrors that used by the majority of law enforcement agencies in the state, is to safeguard against allegations of theft, loss of property or damage by the department and to protect others from items in the vehicle which may pose a threat of injury.

During oral arguments scheduled to be heard on March 9 at 9:30 a.m., the key question the justices will consider is the required control police must have over a vehicle in order for an inventory search to be justified under the state Constitution.

Defense attorney Mark Sisti successfully argued at the trial court level that Dauphin, not Laconia police, had control of the defendant's car when they ordered it towed, and as a result an officer had no right to inventory its contents.

Judge Peter Fauver, sitting in Belknap County Superior Court, ruled that drug evidence found in the car and Dauphin's subsequent disclosures to police were unlawfully obtained and were inadmissible at trial. Fauver held that the early model Pontiac Grand Am was neither in police custody or impounded at the time the search occurred. He also ruled that the inventory was "otherwise unreasonable because the vehicle did not meaningfully achieve any legitimate non-investigative purpose."

The ruling eviscerated the state's case, but instead of dismissing the charges, Assistant Attorney General Jason Casey asked the high court to scrutinize Judge Fauver's decision.

In his motion asking the court to suppress the evidence filed in November 2015, Sisti asserted that police had no reason to search the car Dauphin was driving as he was not under arrest, the car was not being seized and Dauphin was in the process of having a ramp truck driver remove the vehicle from the scene. There was no reason for police to suspect there was any contraband in the car, and there was no evidence in plain sight in the vehicle, Sisti wrote.

In his brief to the high court, the prosecutor maintains city police acted lawfully when they inventoried the contents of the car that they ordered towed pursuant to the department's written policy, as the vehicle was unregistered.

Casey contends there is no support for Judge Fauver's conclusion that storage at a third-party facility is necessary to trigger a police officer's authority to inventory the contents of a car.

Because Laconia police had temporarily seized Dauphin's car, summoned a tow truck and directed that the car be towed against the defendant's wishes, the department was reasonably liable for injuries caused by dangerous items inside the car to the tow truck driver, Casey argued.

The prosecutor maintains since Dauphin's arrest was valid, his confession should be admissible at trial and the justices should overturn Fauver's ruling.

In arguing that the trial court made the right call, Sisti says the officers' agreement to have the car towed to Dauphin's house and the defendant's expressed ability to pay the ramp truck driver, removed the need to conduct an inventory search.

As police allowed Dauphin and his passenger to remain inside the car and then walk around outside it, and even gave him back his keys, Sisti asserts the state's claims that police had a duty to protect the tow truck driver from dangerous items inside the vehicle or to shield items from theft was a farce.

Dauphin was arrested at the scene of the traffic stop, after a black bag containing suspected crystal meth was found by police under the driver's seat.

When interrogated, Dauphin allegedly disclosed that he had more drugs and cash hidden in his home. After obtaining a search warrant, police found $9,940 in cash and nearly eight ounces of crystal meth hidden in a drop ceiling in the master bedroom of Dauphin's home.

Previously, the state obtained a forfeiture order to claim $12,000 in cash seized from the defendant as the alleged profits of drug sales.

Peter Dauphin
Peter Dauphin of Laconia, foreground, with his Attorney Mark Sisti during a hearing in Belknap County Superior Court. The issue of whether an inventory search of Dauphin's car was legal will be heard by the New Hampshire Supreme Court on March 9. (Bea Lewis/ for The Laconia Daily Sun)

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Snowmobiler is run over

Belmont man seriously hurt after hitting fence


BELMONT — In a freak snowmobiling accident Wednesday night, a 35-year-old Belmont man sustained life-threatening injuries when he crashed into a fence and then was accidentally run over by another snowmobiler, officials said.
The victim, whose name was not released, was found unconscious and bleeding, with broken bones and head trauma, according to Belmont Fire Department Capt. Mike Newhall.
The crash happened around 10:30 p.m. on a trail off of South Road, which links Route 140 and Route 106. The snowmobiler likely would have died on impact if not for the fact that he was wearing a helmet, Newhall said.
"He had hit a fence post and his riding partner ran over him by accident. He split his helmet in half," Newhall said.
"It saved his life," Newhall said of the helmet, "but he still had significant trauma to his head and neck."
The victim was transported to Lakes Region General Hospital in Laconia and then taken by ground ambulance to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in Lebanon. Aerial transport was not possible due to the weather.
Belmont police and fire responders used snowmobiles that were provided to them by other riders to make access to the scene of the accident, Newhall reported.
"We were fortunate. Snowmobilers are quite a nice bunch of people, when our first guys got there, and people were there, they said, 'Take our sleds. Take them.' And they let us use them," he said.
The crash occurred about 1,500 yards into the woods, and without the use of snowmobiles, the rescue could have involved a larger number of responders and taken much longer, Newhall said.
Belmont firefighter Josh Huestis, student intern John Bowler and Lt. Sean McCarty, along with Belmont police, were first to make contact with the patient, Newhall said. The victim was unresponsive and had significant head trauma, as well as many broken bones, he reported. The Argo, an eight-wheel vehicle with tracks that drives on top of the snow, arrived with additional personnel, including Lt. Greg Bavis and student intern Steve Maffee, shortly after the initial group of responders made contact, Newhall said. The patient was loaded into a stokes litter and placed on the Argo for transport off of the trail, and from there was loaded into the ambulance, he said.
There were no drugs or alcohol involved, Newhall said.
New Hampshire Fish and Game is investigating the incident.

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Tandem bicyclists are racing across America


HOLDERNESS — A series of fundraisers are being planned over the next several months to help John Jurczynski and Ann Rasmussen, who hope to set a new mixed tandem team record in this summer's 3,089-mile Race Across America, to raise funds for First Descents, which provides provides life-changing outdoor adventures for young adults (age 18-39) impacted by cancer.
Jurczynski, manager of the Rockywold-Deephaven Camps on Squam Lake, and Rasmussen, a guidance counselor at Plymouth Regional High School, have been doing tandem bicycling for two years now. Last year they logged over 14,000 miles on the road and practice two to three hours a day this time of year, as well as on weekends.
Last weekend they set new records for tandem bikers in both the 12-hour and 24-hour categories at an event in Sebring, Florida. They eclipsed the previous record of 239 miles in the 12-hour event with 253 miles and went on to set the 24-hour record with 426 miles, some 57 miles ahead of the old record of 369 miles.
Last November they became world champions for mixed tandem bicyclists in the 24 Hour World Time Trial Championships in Borrego Springs, Cailfornia, winning the overall tandem division with 433.2 miles on Nov. 4 and 5. But those times were not recognized as official records.
The Race Across America starts on June 13 in Riverside, California, and ends in Annapolis, Maryland.
"Despite our advanced ages (53 and 60 respectively), in the two years that we have been riding together, Ann and I have had very good results on the tandem. If things are going well and we have some favorable winds, we would like to set a new mixed tandem record. The record of 10 days 22 hours and 40 minutes was set in 1990 by Ron Dossenbach and Sue Pavlet. Their average speed was 11.15 mph," he says.
It will not be a new experience for Jurczynski, who 10 years ago, at the age of 50, won his age group in the Race Across America, riding some 3,000 miles in 11 days, 22 hours, and 14 minutes and raised over $35,000 for diabetes research.
Locally, Jennifer Morris is associated with First Descents and with her help John and Ann hope to raise $60,000 for the organization.
On March 4 there will be a live music event at Cafe Monte Alto in Plymouth featuring the Sweet Bloods at 11 a.m. and the Jared Steer-Dave Kobrenski Duo at 12:30 p.m. There will also be donation yoga classes at many yoga studios in the central New Hampshire-White Mountains area on March 20 and in mid-May a cocktail-music event will be held at a local restaurant. For more information contact Morris at 738-4443.
"While Ann and I plan to cover all of our own expenses, we also hope to find sponsors willing to help cover the estimated $30,000 in costs for transportation, lodging and meals for eight to ten crew members driving three support vehicles across the country, twice, over a 14 to 18 day period." says Jurczynski. He says that he is hopeful that much of that cost will be covered by bike raffle being held by Rhino Bike Works in Plymouth.
02-17 john and ann Jurczynski
John Jurczynski and Ann Rasmussen set new tandem bike records in the 12-hour and 24-hour events in Sebring, Florida, over the weekend. (Coutesy photo)

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