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Judge throws out evidence in marijuana case

Prosecutors have dropped a felony drug charge against an Arizona woman after a judge ruled that evidence in the case was improperly obtained by Havre police.

Rosemarie Belgarde, 29, of Bapchule, Ariz., had been charged with one count of possession of dangerous drugs with intent to distribute. The charge stemmed from a July 10 search of a Havre hotel room that produced nearly 4 pounds of suspected marijuana, according to the charging document.

Officers searched the Belgardes' room shortly after they detained her husband, Charles Belgarde, during a traffic stop. Police had information indicating he possessed a handgun and was driving without a license. Court documents said police believed he had drugs either in the vehicle or in the hotel room where he was staying, according to court documents.

Officers went to the hotel where they questioned Rosemarie Belgarde, who gave them permission to search both the vehicle and the hotel room. After police found suspected marijuana in a backpack in the room, prosecutors charged both of the Belgardes with a felony drug offense, court documents said.

The Hill County Attorney's Office on Wednesday dropped the charge against Rosemarie Belgarde, citing a judge's ruling that prohibited prosecutors from using any evidence obtained during the search against her. Prosecutors cannot meet the burden of proof without using the evidence, according to the document dropping the charge.

District Judge John McKeon on Dec. 18 ordered that the evidence against Rosemarie Belgarde be suppressed, citing a lack of "particularized suspicion" by officers when searching the hotel room.

The order came in response to an Oct. 29 motion by Rosemarie Belgarde's attorney. Havre lawyer Carl White argued in the motion that officers violated her rights by going to the room and questioning her.

Performing such an investigation requires "particularized suspicion" by law enforcement that a person has committed a crime, White said. Police had no reason to suspect Rosemarie Belgarde had committed any crime at the time they went to the hotel, and their questioning and detention of her was unlawful, White said.

White's motion also said police failed to inform Rosemarie Belgarde about the investigation as required by law.

"Rosemarie was detained and handcuffed, yet officers still did not give her the stop and frisk advisory or a Miranda warning. Officers continued to question Rosemarie and elicited from her statements that may be incriminating," White said in the motion.

White's motion requested that statements made by Rosemarie Belgarde and the suspected marijuana be suppressed.

"Clearly, from beginning to end, the stop, questioning and search of Rosemarie Belgarde was in violation of her statutory and constitutional rights," the motion said.

Prosecutors responded to White's motion, contending that the search of the hotel room was not an investigation of Rosemarie Belgarde, but was in fact part of a continuing investigation involving Charles Belgarde.

McKeon disagreed, ruling that the search of the room and questioning of Rosemarie Belgarde did constitute an investigation separate from the detainment of her husband. Although "particularized suspicion" may have existed for Charles Belgarde during the traffic stop, the suspicion did not automatically extend to Rosemarie Belgarde at the hotel room, McKeon said in the order.

"The objective data obtained at the stop of (Charles Belgarde) do not support a resulting suspicion that (Rosemarie Belgarde) was engaged in wrongdoing back at the motel room," the order said.

McKeon cited a two-part test used by judges to determine whether "particularized suspicion" exists. Neither element required was present in this case, precluding police from searching the hotel room for evidence against Rosemarie Belgarde, McKeon said.

It does not appear McKeon's ruling will apply to the drug charge filed against Charles Belgarde. The Hill County Attorney's Office said today it does not plan to drop the charge against him.

 

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