Wyoming Supreme Court Upholds Conviction Of Men Caught With 320 Pounds Of Pot

The Wyoming Supreme Court has rejected a claim made by a pair of men caught with 320 pounds of marijuana on I-80 that a state trooper stopped them because their car was too big and they were Hispanic.

CM
Clair McFarland

July 19, 20235 min read

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The Wyoming Supreme Court has upheld a lower court's conviction of two men caught hauling 320 pounds of marijuana on the Interstate after a state trooper sped to catch the men because their vehicle looked too big for just two people. 

The Wyoming Supreme Court has rejected an argument that a state trooper stopped two men as they drove 320 pounds of marijuana through the state because the men are Hispanic and that the judge overseeing the men’s case disregarded the Wyoming Constitution.  

Albany County District Court Judge Misha E. Westby sentenced Hector Zapien-Galvan and Cristian M. Ramirez both to probation, with the threat of prison time if they fail their probation, after Wyoming state troopers caught the men with 320 pounds of marijuana on March 20, 2022.  

Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Cody Tippy was parked on the median of I-80 that day with another trooper in the passenger seat, according to a summary in a Friday opinion by the Wyoming Supreme Court.  

Tippy saw two men in a white Ford Expedition with out-of-state license plates driving eastbound at the proper speed limit.  

Tippy pulled onto I-80 to catch up to the vehicle, and sped up to about 120 miles per hour as he did so.  

He was trying to investigate possible drug activity, he later testified in court. His hunch was based on the size of the vehicle.  

“It’s an oversize rental,” Tippy said in court, according to the opinion. “So if there’s only two people in a vehicle, then they don’t need to be renting out, like, a Ford Expedition.”  

Tippy admitted, however, that he didn’t know the vehicle was a rental until after the stop.  

Under The Blankets 

Tippy caught up to the Expedition, noticed its license plate’s registration had expired and performed a traffic stop.  

Ramirez produced a California driver’s license. Galvan had a Mexico consular identification card.   

Tippy noticed a gray blanket covering large items in the back of the Expedition, the document says.  

Tippy asked the men questions about the car, the rental agreement (which they couldn’t produce), where they were traveling and how they knew each other.  

Another trooper brought a drug-detection dog, Becky, to sniff the car.  

Becky alerted around the rear door seam by the cargo area, so police searched. They found large vacuum-sealed bags containing 320.6 pounds of marijuana under the blankets.  

The Speeding Though 

The two men at first pleaded “not guilty” to drug possession and intent to deliver charges. They asked the Albany County District Court to suppress the evidence against them and claimed that Tippy’s initial stop was not reasonable because he exceeded the speed limit to catch up to them without having first observed a crime.  

The district court reviewed the men’s request under the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution because the men’s brief said that the Wyoming and U.S. Constitutions “agree” on reasonable standards for searches and seizures, according to the opinion.  

But after the district court denied their motion to suppress evidence and ultimately oversaw their change to guilty pleas and their sentencing, the men appealed to the Wyoming Supreme Court. They claimed the district court judge didn’t pay enough attention to the Wyoming Constitution’s protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.  

But Don’t Cause A Crime 

The high court found that the district court did not mishandle the case, because the defendants themselves did not assert the Wyoming Constitution’s protections as distinct from the federal Fourth Amendment.  

The justices also looked at a 2022 case, Levenson vs. Wyoming, in which it had found a trooper violated a driver’s right against search and seizure by chasing after the driver, congesting traffic on the interstate, then stopping the driver for tailgating.  

“Unjustified actions which ‘provoke’ a traffic violation may, under the totality of the circumstances, invalidate the probable cause supporting a traffic stop,” reads the opinion.  

But in Ramirez and Galvan’s case, Tippy didn’t cause the expired license registration for which he stopped them.  

Racial Profiling 

But Ramirez raised a new controversy before the state Supreme Court: He claimed Tippy sped after he and Galvan because they’re Hispanic.  

Ramirez’s appeal alleged that Tippy “gave absolutely no feasible explanation why he thought it so suspicious that two middle-age, Hispanic males would be in a Ford Expedition with out-of-state plates that he needed to investigate.”  

Ramirez drew attention to Tippy having pulled up next to the men to look at them before running the expired plates through the law enforcement database.  

The Supreme Court wouldn’t grapple with this debate at all because Ramirez didn’t raise it at the district court level and the high court doesn’t hash out fresh issues during appeals.  

Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter