November 10, 2012

Weighing the cost of prosecution


The judges of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City didn’t take on the boundary-line question when debating the case of United States vs. Eric C. Wilson of St. Regis Falls.

They ruled in late October that the St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Police had reasonable cause to pull Wilson over after he allegedly crossed from the United States into Canada and back again the morning of Jan. 28, 2010, without using an international point of entry.

Two tribal officers, including one also designated as a customs officer under the U.S. Division of Homeland Security, stopped Wilson on Route 37 across from the Akwesasne Mohawk Casino.

Along with U.S. Border Protection officers who arrived later, the police allegedly found three large duffel bags full of marijuana in Wilson’s vehicle and charged him with possession with intent to distribute 124 pounds of pot.

The location of the traffic stop is known as the Bombay Triangle and is part of the land-claims area.

Wilson’s defense team argued the stop was illegal because tribal officers had no jurisdiction in that area since it is off reservation. The lower court agreed and suppressed the marijuana evidence against him.

But, on appeal, the federal judges said that, no matter where the stop took place, it doesn’t change the fact that there was probable cause for the Tribal Police to pull him over.

“For the purposes of this appeal, we assume that these locations were outside St. Regis territory, but we express no view as to whether this assumption is correct either as a legal or factual matter,” the judges wrote.

Wilson was ordered to stand trial in federal court.

“It’s unfortunate that the ruling from the higher court didn’t get to the issue of the Bombay Triangle,” Barrett said.

Even though the charge was dropped against his client for now, he said, the district attorney and White will continue negotiations “to see if there is a possible settlement.”

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