By Samuel Van Blaricom
SACRAMENTO, CA – A motion to suppress evidence was denied Friday in a Sacramento County Superior Court preliminary hearing by Judge Kenneth Mennemeier in a felony possession of a weapon case, but not before defense counsel fought for a decision in his client’s favor.
Tommy Norasing was in the vehicle with a 17-year-old juvenile, identified as “Justin,” who was found with a weapon during a pat-down after a vehicle stop for an expired registration.
Norasing is charged with felony count that prohibits convicted felons (or persons with outstanding felony warrants) from owning, purchasing, or possessing firearms in California
According to Judge Mennemeier’s summary of the facts, Norasing was pulled over last May when two officers saw that he had an expired registration for his vehicle. During the stop, it was revealed that one passenger was on searchable probation.
At that point, police reports noted all of the occupants were asked to exit the vehicle for “both officer and occupant safety” and they proceeded to perform a pat-down search on each individual. While nothing interesting was found on either Norasing or the one passenger, a handgun with live rounds was found in another passenger’s (Justin) waistband.
Assistant Public Defender Kyle Hofmeister introduced a motion to suppress on Nov. 30 that focused on a right to privacy guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment and the unnecessary prolonging of their detention by the pat-down searches, making them unreasonable and thus unconstitutional.
Judge Mennemeier argued that one of the main questions that is presented when debating the suppression of this evidence is whether Norasing’s right to privacy extends to Justin’s body, which he concluded that it does not.
“The threshold issue is, may the prosecution use evidence found in a pat-down search of Justin in proceedings against Mr. Norasing, or must the fruits of the pat-down search of Justin be suppressed,” he stated.
“The Fourth Amendment issue is whether Mr. Norasing may assert a reasonable expectation of privacy with regard to the space—i.e. Justin’s waist and waistband—in which officers found the gun when conducting the pat-down search of Justin. And the court answers this question, no.”
Judge Mennemeier then moved on to the second point regarding the contention that the pat-downs unreasonably extended the length of the detention. His decision was that the stop “graduated” from a traffic stop to a probation search, which makes a longer detention of about 15 minutes reasonable.
“With the understanding of the course of events provided by Officer Muhammed…the court finds that the duration of the stop was lawful, it was not unreasonable, it was not unduly prolonged,” the judge added.
Officer Muhammed, one of the officers that performed the traffic stop, provided testimony of the stop on Nov. 30 at a preliminary hearing.
After rejecting both prongs of the argument, Judge Mennemeier stated his final decision to deny the motion, stating, “For that combination of reasons and consideration the court denies Mr. Norasing’s motion to suppress.”
However, PD Hofmeister was not convinced of the analysis, saying that his argument was not addressed in totality.
“I don’t think the court has ruled whether or not even the pat-down search of my client was reasonable or not under the facts. I think that it would be proper for the court to have to consider because the moment a search becomes unreasonable, thus an unreasonable detention, everything after becomes the fruit of the poisonous tree,” he argued.
Judge Mennemeier responded, saying that although it was a reasonable argument, he was “unpersuaded” in part because it would “be a backdoor way of raising Fourth Amendment protections with regard to the fruits of a search, as to which Mr. Norasing cannot complain,” citing his previous explanation.
“The totality of the circumstances lead me to think that a pat-down search of Mr. Norasing was reasonable. I have not found any case law that tells me that, on these facts, that conclusion is mistaken or wrong,” Judge Mennemeier concluded.