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In Paris Hilton’s third encounter with law enforcement in the past three months, she was charged with felony drug possession which could earn her probation that, if violated, comes with a one to four-year jail sentence. Late last Friday night, a Las Vegas police officer pulled over Hilton’s vehicle, driven by her boyfriend, Cy Waits, outside the Wynn resort on Las Vegas Boulevard after police “followed a vapor trail” they believed to be marijuana smoke wafting from the open windows of the vehicle. Reaching for some some chap stick after she had been detained, Hilton got more than she bargained for when not only the tube, but also .8 grams of cocaine tumbled out into plain view, practically into the officer’s hands.
The heiress not only claimed the purse was not hers (though she wasn’t so quick to disclaim the $1,300 cash and credit cards inside), but further insisted that while she had not seen it before, she now believed the ”bundle” of cocaine to be chewing gum. This isn’t the first time Hilton has played dumb when busted for drugs - a strategy that actually resulted in the dismissal of marijuana possession charges against her during a midnight court hearing in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, where Hilton was visiting to watch the World Cup.
This time, Paris’ attorney, David Chesnoff, will be going with a bit more sophisticated defense, reportedly preparing to contest the charges based on the theory that cops performed an illegal search and seizure, since the substance was discovered at a location other than the site of the traffic stop. The change of venue, to a secure room inside the Wynn where the cocaine was found in her purse, was apparently made at the request of Hilton in order to avoid the throng of spectators and paparazzi that began to accumulate after she was spotted.
The Fourth Amendment protects individuals from unreasonable searches and seizures, and passengers of vehicles seized, just like drivers, can contest the legality of a search. Officers are also permitted to ask the passenger to exit the car, and inspect belongings that are “capable of concealing the object of the search” — in this case, a purse capable of containing marijuana.
While Paris would have a better case had the vehicle been searched as an incident to Cy’s arrest after she was removed from the scene, claiming that a search of her person was illegal will be more difficult since search restrictions when a suspect is moved are generally intended to keep officers from searching a car when the suspect is in the back seat of their cruiser (i.e. unable to either destroy any evidence in the car or pose a threat to the officer by reaching for a weapon therein). A search of Paris’ person, however, could be valid.
Either way, it doesn’t help that Paris dumped the cocaine right into the officer’s arms of her own volition. And although prosecutors will still have to prove Hilton had intent to possess the cocaine, the “chewing gum” excuse is already being widely ridiculed as one of the poorest ever given.
– Susie Reilly
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