The action of police officers at a sobriety checkpoint to direct a scooter driver to a citation area has been found lawful. The scooter operator was later allegedly found in possession of methamphetamine or “ice.”
In denying defendant Fu Zhu Lin's motion to suppress evidence, Superior Court Presiding Judge Robert C. Naraja Naraja determined that Lin's investigatory detention in the citation area was supported by reasonable suspicion of a violation of Commonwealth law, and was in compliance with the CNMI and U.S. constitutions.
Naraja said that Lin's failure to display a current registration sticker on his scooter's license plate violated Commonwealth law and provided the “greeter” at the checkpoint reasonable suspicion that he was in violation of the law.
Lin is charged with one count of illegal possession of a controlled substance.
According to court records, on Dec. 24, 2011, Sgt. Anthony I. Macaranas and police officer Rodolfo S. Hermosilla seized a small baggie containing “ice” from Lin's companion, Mei Ying Qi, after the officers saw Lin passing the item to Qi at a sobriety checkpoint in Chalan Piao.
Lin was driving a scooter with Qi as his passenger when they were randomly waved into the sobriety checkpoint by an officer.
Upon entering the checkpoint, Lin encountered another officer, known as the “greeter.” The greeter's job is to briefly inspect the vehicles and their occupants for signs of “intoxicated drivers, people not wearing seat belts, and other traffic violations, including motorists who have expired or missing vehicle registration stickers on their license plates.”
Naraja said the greeter observed an expired 2005 registration sticker on the license plate of Lin's scooter.
Based on this observation, the greeter directed Lin and Qi to the citation area. Lin and Qi met Macaranas and Hermosilla.
At the citation area, Hermosilla asked Lin for his license and registration. Lin failed to produce a driver's license or identification, and provided the officer with only an expired registration card for the scooter.
Hermosilla wrote a traffic citation and then arrested Lin for driving a motor vehicle without a driver's license. Macaranas then did a pat-down search of Lin and noticed Lin hand something to Qi, who immediately concealed the item in her blouse.
The officers retrieved the item, which later tested positive for “ice.”
Lin, through assistant public defender Daniel Guidotti, asked the court to exclude all evidence obtained during Lin's brief detention in the citation area.
Guidotti conceded that the initial stop at the checkpoint was lawful, but argued that it became unconstitutional the moment the greeter directed Lin to the citation area for further inquiry without reasonable suspicion of a violation of Commonwealth law.
Assistant attorney general Margo A. Brown opposed the motion.