Ms. Coffman was the passenger in a car stopped at a roadblock. A Hugo police officer claimed he found a tin foil of crack cocaine in the floorboard by her seat, so he arrested her, searched her and claimed he found more cocaine in her jacket. She was charged with possession, and because she had two former felony convictions the new charge subjected her to a sentencing range of 6 years to life in the penitentiary.
Haslam moved to suppress the search of both the vehicle and Coffman because the officer illegally detained the vehicle longer than necessary to effect the purposes of the roadblock [license, insurance and equipment checks] and because her arrest was not supported by probable cause.
Traffic stops are the subject of a great deal of law. Oklahoma roadblocks are particularly closely watched by the courts because there is no probable cause supporting the stop. In Lookingbill v. State [2007 OK CR 7], the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals set strict new rules for this kind of stop. Specifically, it explained law enforcement simply cannot detain cars longer than necessary to effect the purpose of the roadblock, and that purpose must be clearly determined by officials before the roadblock is begun.
Here, the trial judge proceeded cautiously because Ms. Coffman was not the driver of the car and therefore might not have “standing” to object to the way the roadblock was handled. However, Haslam brought a new U.S. Supreme Court case, Brendlin v. California, to the attention of the Court, a case which recently, finally accorded passengers the right to object to the unlawful search of a vehicle.
The judge suppressed the fruits of this illegal arrest and search and dismissed the case.