Suspect argues search during Elgin traffic stop was not justified
Was a Kane County sheriff's deputy justified -- or did he overstep his authority -- when he ordered a strip search of a Minnesota man arrested earlier this year after a traffic stop on I-90 near Elgin?
Ismael Jaimes-Meza, 23, of St. Paul, who faces six to 30 years in prison if convicted on drug charges, is fighting to have the search declared illegal and any evidence obtained from it banned in court.
Authorities say they stopped the minivan in which Meza was a passenger on April 15 because the windshield was obstructed by a GPS device and a handicap placard and, when they did, they smelled marijuana. The occupants gave conflicting stories about where they were headed and Meza had rolls of cash in his pockets, according to testimony Tuesday.
But Meza's defense attorney, Kathleen Colton, argued Tuesday the search of Meza was unreasonable. After the stop, Meza was taken to the sheriff's department and the strip search was ordered. Before he removed all his clothes, Meza handed authorities a small bag of marijuana he was hiding as well as a clear crystal-like substance wadded up in tissue paper, according to testimony.
Meza is charged with possession of methamphetamine and marijuana, according to court records.
Colton said officers lacked probable cause for the search, and their accusation that Meza was laundering money was not valid.
"It is not unlawful in the United States of America for someone to be traveling with currency in his pocket," Colton said. "He wasn't doing anything wrong. There were no warrants for his arrest."
Assistant State's Attorney Bridget Sabbia argued the search was justified.
"When you look at the totality of the circumstances, a reasonable officer would have probable cause to suspect money laundering," Sabbia said.
Attorneys began playing a squad car video of the traffic stop, but Judge John Barsanti agreed to watch it in his chambers where it is easier to hear the audio wearing earphones instead of in an open courtroom. He could rule on the matter Wednesday.
Meza is being held at the Kane County jail on $350,000 bail, meaning he must post $35,000 to be released while the charges are pending.