A federal judge threw out evidence of methamphetamine seized during a traffic stop on Interstate 15 because the trooper found suspicious — among other things — the driver’s playing of Mormon music.
Chief U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled Wednesday to throw out the evidence seized. The case is being prosecuted in federal court in Idaho.
Idaho State Police Trooper Kenneth Peeples pulled the defendant over on I-15 on April 8 after the driver didn’t signal for five seconds before changing lanes, which is law in Idaho.
When Peeples approached the car, he noticed that the driver had rolled down the front windows and was playing Mormon music from a local radio station. He smelled the pungent scent of an air freshener and noticed the driver’s lip quiver as he spoke. Upon obtaining the driver’s vehicle information, the trooper noticed it was a rental car.
The playing of the music, Peeples believed, “could indicate that [the driver] was overcompensating by attempting to affiliate with the local religious community,” the judge’s ruling states.
Peeples went back to his car to process the man’s license for possible warrants. At this point, Peeples testified, he planned to bring in a drug-sniffing police dog to search the car unless the driver’s behavior — which he found indicated criminal activity — changed.
Peeples asked the driver to get out of the car, then he searched him. He then got a dog out of his car, which eventually indicated that there was something on the driver-side floorboard.
Peeples searched the car and found methamphetamine.
But Winmill ruled that the driver’s behavior was not enough to pass the threshold of “independent reasonable suspicion” of criminal activity.
What the trooper found suspicious — the Mormon music, air freshener, nervousness, etc. — should “carry little weight,” the judge wrote.
“These factors also describe hundreds, if not thousands of law-abiding citizens,” Winmill wrote.
Therefore, diverting from the traffic stop to a drug investigation was a violation of the Fourth Amendment.