The Idaho Supreme Court unanimously found Monday that under state law Alesha Ann Green should not have been taken to jail, following an October 2012 stop for driving with an invalid license.
However, the justices found the arrest was legal under state and federal constitutions and overruled an Ada County judge who refused to allow evidence implicating Green, now 37, for illegal drug possession. The drugs were discovered, along with digital scales, paraphernalia and a large amount of cash, during searches of her person, her vehicle and a hotel room following her arrest.
Fourth District Judge Melissa Moody at trial ruled that Green’s arrest was “unlawful” and therefore the search evidence could not be used. The state appealed the decision and the Supreme Court’s ruling will send the case back to the trial court.
On appeal, the state argued that the state statute that prohibits the misdemeanor arrest for driving on an invalid license should not trump a provision in the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would allow such an arrest. State lawyers said that because the Fourth Amendment and Article I, Section 17 of the Idaho Constitution are nearly identical regarding arrest standards, the state constitutional provision should be interpreted the same ass the federal constitution.
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The court ruled that an arrest for a misdemeanor offense was proper under both the state and federal constitutions and that laws enacted by the Idaho Legislature could not be considered part of the “constitutional standard” for what constitutes a legal arrest.
“To hold otherwise would essentially allow the Legislature to amend the Idaho Constitution by the process of a statutory enactment or amendment,” Justice Jim Jones wrote in the 15-page decision.
Justice Warren Jones agreed with his colleagues but said he was troubled that Green had no recourse “after being subject to an arrest and search in violation of a plainly worded statute.”
While he said it was “highly unlikely” the Legislature contemplated that an arrest made in violation of the state law could be used as the basis for a search, Warren Jones blamed lawmakers for passing the law without consideration of the constitutional conflict.
“While it is mind-bending to label the search here as one incident to a ‘lawful’ arrest when the arrest plainly violates Idaho law, the Legislature failed to expressly include the constitutional remedy of suppression of evidence to cure a violation of the arrest statute,” Warren Jones wrote.
He said it was disconcerting that people who commit a misdemeanor in front of a police officer could be arrested and searched the same as Green.
“My underlying purpose in writing ... is to point out that ordinary, law-abiding citizens should be mindful that they too can be subject to all the accoutrements of arrest (i.e. fingerprinted, photographed, searched) for committing any misdemeanor in an officer’s presence, including those specifically prohibited by the Legislature,” he wrote. “The arrest and booking process is invasive, time consuming, and embarrassing. This invasion of a citizen’s rights in violation of the statute, even though not prohibited by the Constitution, is difficult to justify.”
Green is incarcerated at the South Boise Women’s Correction Center, following conviction in two other Ada County drug trafficking cases. She is scheduled for a parole hearing in November 2018 and could be released the following spring if she wins parole. Otherwise, she is scheduled to remain in prison until 2026.