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Court Upholds Pot Arrest Using Military Helicopter

In legalese, it’s called a “coercive search.” Essentially, that means someone was intimidated by law enforcement into granting permissions they otherwise would not have. And that issue was at the root of a case recently decided by the New Mexico Supreme Court.

When 72-year-old Norman Davis was confronted by law enforcement officers in “five or six vehicles” and a military helicopter hovering above his property. The helicopter crew had already spotted what was assumed to be marijuana plants growing behind Davis’ house. When the police asked permission to search (and had Davis sign a consent form), Mr. Davis felt he had little option. Not only had officers told him that a failure to comply would simply result in a warrant being obtained “within 30 minutes” but the overwhelming presence of law enforcement led him to believe he had no real choice.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, Davis said, at the time, “I'm not really thrilled with you searching my house" and "I don't know if I should do this."

Subsequently, 14 plants were found and Davis ended up pleading guilty to a fourth degree felony possession charge. The case then moved up the court ladder and ended with the Supreme Court ruling against Davis and upholding the conviction.

After the guilty plea, Davis received one year of unsupervised probation.

On appeal, the courts agreed with Davis and ruled that he was coerced and would not have given consent in less stressful circumstances. Even though by then his sentence had been served, the State Attorney General’s Office took the case to the Supreme Court. Davis’ conviction and sentence is less important, from a legal point of view, that the principle involved. Had the case been dropped after appeal, it is likely that current police procedure would have had to have been modified to reflect the ruling.

One specific that might make this case have less than general application was a recording made at the time – Davis can be heard saying, “Yes” and “Sure” when asked by officers about searching the property.


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