A Missouri judge has ruled that merely buying cold tablets and lithium batteries -- items that could be used to manufacture methamphetamine -- does not provide police with an excuse to stop and search the buyer. In a case where members of the Southeast Missouri Drug Task Force tailed a man buying two boxes of Sudafed tablets at one store and watch batteries at another, then stopped and searched him, Judge William Syler ruled on April 21 that task force members had engaged in an unwarranted and unreasonable detention and search and that the evidence seized as a result must be suppressed.
Cape Girardeau Prosecuting Attorney Morley Swingle told the Southeast Missourian last week that he has already appealed the ruling to the Missouri Eastern District Court of Appeals in St. Louis. A higher court needs to decide what constitutes reasonable suspicion in meth-related traffic stops, Swingle said. "This is going to be pretty important," he said. "Because if the judgment is upheld, then police all over the state won't be able to consider that reasonable suspicion."
On January 24, Michigan resident William Childress made the suspicious purchases and was then stopped by task force members. After Childress consented to a search of his vehicle, officers found one four-pack of batteries and three boxes of Sudafed, and receipts for earlier purchases. Childress was then arrested for possession of methamphetamine precusors with the intent to manufacture a controlled substance. Under Missouri law, possession of more than 24 grams of a meth precursor is evidence of intent to manufacture, but all of Childress' Sudafed amounted to only 11.5 grams. Missouri law also makes it a crime to purchase more than three boxes of ephedrine or pseudoephedrine at one time, but Childress was observed buying only two.
Childress' public defender, Jennifer Booth, filed a motion to suppress the evidence, arguing that the search was done without probable cause or warrant and that there was no evidence the Sudafed and watch batteries were going to be used in a crime. Judge Syler agreed. "I worked with both of these [arresting] officers for years and respect both of them," Syler said. "But I think in all candor -- and as I said, not that I don't understand what's going on here -- but I just don't think this is enough in this particular instance."