LACONIA – A local man charged with felony possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute has asked the court to dismiss the charge against him by claiming the search of his car by city police was illegal. The case is being heard in the Belknap County Superior Court.
Police stopped Peter Dauphin, 43, of 19 Appleton St. around 10 p.m. April 25 on Sheridan Street just before the intersection of Appleton Street because he had allegedly squealed his tires in Lakeport Square and police felt he was speeding. When asked for his license and registration, Dauphin produced a bill of sale for the car and told officers he was using the previous owner's plates until he could get it registered.
The officer said he would have to take the plates because they were not Dauphin's and the car would need to be towed. Since Dauphin's home was visible from where the stop took place he said he asked and was given permission by the officer to have the car towed to his home. Dauphin made his own arrangements with the driver from Gulbicki's Towing and paid him $125 to take the car to his driveway.
While the car was being loaded on to the flatbed, the officer told Dauphin it was police department policy to search it. Since the car was locked, the officer reached his hand into an open passenger side window and triggered the alarm. Dauphin turned off the alarm. During the search, the officer found a sunglasses case under the seat and in it was about an ounce of methamphetamine. Dauphin was arrested and taken to the police station where he was interrogated. He told police there was more methamphetamine at his home and where it was. Police got a search warrant and found several ounces of meth in his home, along with $11,000.
Dauphin's attorney Mark Sisti argues in his motion to suppress the evidence filed in court that the car was registered to the prior owner and there is nothing in state law that says a car can't be driven by someone other than the person who holds the registration.
Sisti said that according to state law, a car can be ordered towed by police only under certain circumstances and that none of those were applicable that night. He said the car was not unattended nor was it going to be, it was not obstructing a road because it was already on the flatbed when the officer initiated the search, there was no complaint of obstruction, it was not stolen and it was registered, and Dauphin was not incapacitated.
The Laconia Police towing policy, said Sisti, is also inapplicable because a car is searched only when it taken into custody or towed under orders of a member of the department. In this case, he said, the car was being towed to Dauphin's home and the tow contract was negotiated with him and not police. The police left the details of the towing to Dauphin and the tow truck driver.
He also said they was no need to protect Dauphin from damage or loss to the contents from police because the car was being towed to his house. In addition, he said there was no reason for the police to protect themselves against any false claims by Dauphin regarding his personal property because the car was not going to be in their custody. At the time the car was loaded onto the tow truck, Dauphin was not under arrest.
Sisti argues that because the search of the car was illegal, the statements he made to detectives at the police station, which are the continuation of the same event and that led to the search of his home, are "fruits of the poisonous tree" and should also be dismissed.
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