1/17/2011

By Dominic Carucci

The Supreme Court has recently agreed to hear a case in which a driver was pulled over for playing his music too loudly and was subsequently charged with the crime of driving with a suspended license. In Tolentino, the officer ran a check of his DMV files and found out that not only was Jose Tolentino’s license suspended, but that it had been suspended at least 10 times prior. He was arrested and charged with first-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle and pled guilty in exchange for five years’ probation. The issue before the court, and the one that Tolentino brings on appeal, is whether the police stop and subsequent DMV record search were illegal. Tolentino argues that the DMV record search should have been inadmissible in court due to what he considers an illegal stop. Tolentino’s argument is based on the Fruit of the Poisonous Tree doctrine, holding that any evidence obtained as a direct result of an illegal action is inadmissible at trial. New York’s highest court upheld his sentence, even though it allowed that the stop may have been illegal. In doing so, the court held that a DMV record search was not suppressible as the fruit of a purportedly illegal traffic stop, holding that one does not have a reasonable expectation of privacy in his identity. The Supreme Court, however, has agreed to hear the case in order to clear up whether giving your license to an officer and his subsequent DMV records check can be Fruit of the Poisonous Tree.