LACONIA — The state Attorney General's Office has claimed city police not only had the right but an obligation to search a local man's car last April after he was stopped for speeding in the Lakeport section of town.
The search lead to the discovery of what ultimately totaled nearly 12 ounces of methamphetamine and $12,000 in cash in the car and in the home of Peter Dauphin, 42, of 19 Appleton St. Dauphin's attorney, Mark Sisti, had filed paperwork with the Belknap County Superior Court asking the court to suppress the search and throw out the drug evidence against his client. The AG's office rebutted that in a motion filed this week.
While Sisti and attorney Jason Casey agree Dauphin had just purchased the car he was driving from another man, Sisti says it is not illegal to drive a car that is registered to a different person but Carey argues that because Dauphin had the bill of sale and admitted he hadn't gotten the car registered, the arresting officer has the right to remove the plates and force Dauphin to have the car towed.
Sisti said that because police allowed Dauphin to initially negotiate and pay the tow truck driver to have his car towed to his house, it was Dauphin's tow and the Laconia police illegally searched the car once it was on the flatbed.
Casey argued that it was the Laconia Police who called the tow truck company and that Dauphin would have had to pay for it regardless of where it was towed. He claims the officer had an obligation to search it because the city's tow policy states that "every vehicle that is taken into custody or towed under orders of a member of [the Laconia Police Department] shall have the contents of the vehicle towed."
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.
While Casey said there is no direct New Hampshire case law that addresses Dauphin's choice of destinations for the car, he cited a Massachusetts law where a defendant under a nearly identical situation asked for the police to tow his car to his home, it was searched and cocaine was found. Casey said the Massachusetts Supreme Court rejected the same argument being made by Sisti and ruled that the operative police what not the destination of the tow but who order it – in both case, he said, the police.
Dauphin is charged with one count of possession of methamphetamine with intent to distribute it. The case is being held in the Belknap County Superior Court and is being tried by Judge Peter Fauver. The state Attorney General's Officer is prosecuting.
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