Routine Traffic Stop Suspicious to Defense, but Judges Rules Case Will Proceed to Trial

By Michael Wheeler

SACRAMENTO, CA – In all other respects it seemed like a routine traffic stop, but defense attorney Philip Cozens wanted to know if the arresting officer had any adverse motivations for arresting his client.

The officer, however, repeatedly batted those insinuations away in a preliminary hearing Monday here in Sacramento County Superior Court.

Officer Jonathon Nagle, according to the record, arrested Ibraheem Ferron on May 22, 2020. Nagle was driving through a parking lot near Stockton Boulevard in Sacramento when he noticed that Ferron’s red Range Rover did not have a front license plate installed, at which point he conducted a routine traffic stop.

Nagle asked Ferron if he was on probation, which Ferron affirmed—it was for a domestic violence charge. Nagle took Ferron into custody and, after checking Ferron’s probation conditions, completed a search of Ferron’s Range Rover.

In the car, Nagle said he found a backpack containing two pounds of marijuana as well as a baggy with 49 pills of MDMA, otherwise known as Ecstasy. Running a drug test at the scene, Nagle identified the pills as presumptively MDMA, and both of the drugs were found in quantities well over the usable amount for one person.

Cozens argued that Nagle was not sufficiently qualified to appear before the court as an expert witness regarding drug matters. “[Nagle] doesn’t have the academic training or the experience really to offer an opinion. He has had at most 3.5 hours over seven years of instruction.

“There are other people who would be better experts. And if you’re talking about expertise, he has not served as a narcotics expert that I heard, and I do not believe he would offer an opinion that would help the court,” added defense counsel.

Judge Kara Ueda, however, overruled Cozens, noting that the existence of people who might be more qualified did not mean that Nagle was not qualified to testify on drug matters.

As well as the drugs, Nagle also found two cell phones and $2,070 of cash in the car. Upon conducting a search of the cell phone, which he was able to do under the terms of Ferron’s probation, he discovered text exchanges between Ferron and two contacts discussing the pricing and supply of different drugs.

During cross-examination Cozens repeatedly asked Nagle if any outside information had led to the arrest of Ferron, such as Nagle’s membership in the Sacramento gang policing team, or if any activity by Ferron had drawn his attention.

Nagle, however, stressed that he had only stopped Ferron because of his missing front plate, explaining, “No. I simply made a traffic stop for the front plate violation, and he told me he was on probation.”

Nagle also described to the court his typical procedure for making a traffic stop of someone serving probation, such as Ferron.

“If someone tells me they’re on probation, I make a habit of detaining them outside of the vehicle. I then confirm their probation and their searchable status and then I conduct that search,” he said.

Ultimately, Judge Ueda ruled that prosecutor Jordan Avey had met the sufficient level of proof for a preliminary hearing, and set trial for Aug. 9 on Ferron’s two counts, each relating to possession of controlled substances with intent to sell.

Michael Wheeler is a junior at UC Davis, where he studies History and Economics. He is from Walnut Creek, California.

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