Search of car with 'drug saint' pic upheld

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CEDAR CITY, Utah, June 9 (UPI) -- A Utah appeals court upheld a police officer's search of a car displaying a picture of Mexican folk hero Jesus Malverde.

Jose Alfredo Lopez-Gutierrez, who was sentenced to 17 1/2 years in prison after pleading guilty to possession with intent to distribute methamphetamine, argued in his appeal that the Cedar City police officer who pulled him over for tailgating in November 2005 violated his constitutional rights by searching his sport utility vehicle, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Tuesday.


The officer said his suspicions had been aroused by the fact that the vehicle's airbag compartment had been removed and reattached, there were three cell phones in the SUV's center console, and both Lopez-Gutierrez's necklace and an image on the dashboard depicted Malverde, whom some consider to be the patron saint of drug dealers.

Lopez-Gutierrez's attorney argued in his appeal that Malverde is also known in Mexico as "the generous bandit" and is revered by poor people, not just those who deal in drugs.

However, the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the officer had reasonable suspicion that Lopez-Gutierrez was up to no good based on his initial observations of the vehicle's contents and evidence sniffed out by a police dog. The conviction was upheld.


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