Drug Case Focuses On Possibility Of Illegal Search

(reprinted from the National Legal News, November 1, 2006)

The Missouri Supreme Court is considering the validity of a police search that turned up 66 pounds of marijuana in a Swedish foot model’s car.

Kerstin M. Sund, 34, was convicted last year and faces deportation if she loses her appeal before the state’s high court.

Sund’s attorney, N. Scott Rosenblum, argues that his client had little choice but to consent to the search during the routine traffic stop in 2003. He says the case boils down to a confrontation between a naive person unaware of the law and an officer with a penchant for circumventing the Fourth Amendment, which protects against illegal searches and seizures.

During the traffic stop, Officer William Knittel Jr. issued Sund a warning for weaving. However, he then asked to search her car’s trunk. Knittel reportedly told Sund she could agree to the search or wait for a search dog to arrive at the scene. She then consented, and the officer found almost $400,000 worth of marijuana.

Because Sund had already been issued a warning, Rosenblum argued that the officer had no reason to prolong the traffic stop, making the search illegal.

Although both sides of the case agree Sund had a legal right to refuse the search, several Missouri Supreme Court judges have questioned whether the average person would know that.

Knittel testified that he prides himself on studying the Fourth Amendment to understand what qualifies as a voluntary search. Rosenblum countered that his client’s rights should not be disregarded simply because Knittel is adept at getting around the law.