There is an interesting case out of Columbia, Missouri where an officer, Jessica McNabb, found a body in the trunk of the car of teenager, Daniel Sanders. That unfortunately is not so interesting in today’s world. What is striking is the reason for the search of the trunk: Sanders asked for a lawyer. The body turned out to be his mother.
When McNabb pulled over Sanders for running a red light and failing to use his headlights, she found that he did not have a license. He immediately asked for an attorney, which she found suspicious. She continued to question him and then asked to see the trunk. That is when she found the body of Helen Sanders, 53, who apparently was drowned. He was charged with evidence tampering and second-degree murder. The trial is scheduled for March.
McNabb is no longer with the force and was a rookie at the time of the search. The case could raise a series of questions. Was Sanders in custody at the time? If so, continuing to question a suspect after invocation of his right to remain silent and his right for counsel would raise serious questions.
More importantly, can an officer use a request for an attorney as a basis for a search? This was not an inventory search at the station, but an investigative search that appears prompted by a request for counsel. As such, this could be a very significant case for constitutional criminal procedure.
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