WINNEMUCCA — Public Defender Matt Stermitz successfully argued to have the evidence suppressed in a drug trafficking case where the probable cause for the traffic stop was a cracked windshield.
Judge Michael Montero ruled in the defense’s favor on Monday (June 27) during the pre-trial conference — a mere two weeks before the case was to go before a jury.
The driver of the vehicle, Jarrett P. Correa, of Honolulu, Hawaii, was passing through Humboldt County on Interstate 80 at the time of the stop.
A search of Correa’s vehicle ensued after the Humboldt County Sheriff’s Office drug-sniffing K9 Lily alerted on the car. The search allegedly turned up $798 in cash and trafficking levels of methamphetamine.
MOTION TO SUPPRESS: Stermitz previously filed a motion to suppress the evidence. In court on Monday, he raised many of the same issues that were in the motion.
His primary argument: Nevada doesn’t have a statute prohibiting people from driving with a cracked windshield. Further, the sheriff’s office deputy who pulled Correa over couldn’t articulate a specific statute to justify the stop.
The traffic stop was initiated on March 30 of this year by Sgt. Lee Dove who heads up the HCSO – Humboldt Interdiction Team.
During the preliminary hearing, Sgt. Dove was not able to cite a specific statute that prohibits motorists from driving with a cracked windshield; though, he generally thought the statute dealing with safety glazing on vehicle windows prohibited cracked windshields.
Stermitz read the statute on Monday, in its entirety, and there was no language in the safety-glazing statutes that prohibits motorists from driving with a cracked windshield.
He told the court the traffic stop was based on a mistake of law. Under case law, and Stermitz quoted multiple cases, in instances where officers mistook the law the evidence was ultimately suppressed.
Deputy DA Roger Whomes disagreed there was no cracked windshield statute. He pointed to the statute that requires the driver’s vision through the glass to be normal (NRS 484B.163(3)), which could be prevented if the windshield were cracked.
He added mud and snow, anything that prevented the driver from having a normal view through the glass, was prohibited.
But, as Stermitz noted, “a normal view” was never defined by the Nevada Legislature. If they cared to revisit the statute and define the terminology, fine, but it wouldn’t be proper for the court to do so, he argued.
Additionally, there were separate statutes that prohibited mud and snow – but not a cracked windshield.
He also argued the “normal view” statute was vague because it doesn’t specifically state what behavior was prohibited. For example, a statute written specifically might read, “A motorist shall not operate a vehicle that has a cracked windshield on the public roads.”
That kind of language tells a person what behavior is specifically prohibited.
Nevada has no such statute.
Sgt. Dove simply had no probable cause for the traffic stop, Stermitz argued, and therefore the evidence should be suppressed.
Montero agreed. He said in reviewing the case he did not find driving a vehicle with a cracked windshield was a violation of the law.
Despite having the evidence suppressed, the DA’s Office did not immediately move to have the charges against Correa dismissed.
SPJ spoke with Humboldt County DA Mike Macdonald late in the day, and he indicated they were still reviewing their options.
At the time of this post, Correa remained at the Humboldt County Detention Center on $20,000 bail.
(shown) Public Defender Matt Stermitz is shown leaving the courtroom followed by Jarrett Correa.