High Court to Consider Rules on Evidence Use


The Record
November 7, 1995

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to determine how difficult it should be for criminal defendants to win appeals aimed at barring use of evidence seized by police without a search warrant.

The justices agreed to hear an appeal in a Wisconsin case by two men who say cocaine seized from their car should not have been allowed as evidence against them.

In other action Monday, the court agreed to use a New Jersey cocaine case to clarify federal judges' authority to lower the sentences of cooperative defendants. Juan Melendez, 29, of New York, who was sentenced for conspiring to distribute cocaine, says a judge wrongly thought that 10 years was the most lenient sentence possible.

Melendez's lawyer, Patrick Mullin of Hackensack, argued that other federal appeals courts allowed even lower departures from recommended sentences for cooperative defendants, and did so without separate requests by prosecutors.

The appeal contended that the 3rd Circuit Court's ruling "violates fundamental notions of due process."

In the Wisconsin case, Saul Ornelas and Ismael Ornelas-Ledesma were arrested at a Milwaukee motel Dec. 11, 1992, after a sheriff's deputy spotted their car with a California license plate. A computer check showed that it was registered to a known drug dealer.

The two men came out of the motel and got into the car. Police said they got permission from the men to search the car. One officer said he noticed a loose door panel and removed it, finding a bag that contained cocaine.

Ornelas and Ornelas-Ledesma pleaded guilty of possession with intent to distribute about 4.4 pounds of cocaine, but challenged a federal judge's ruling that the cocaine found in the car could be used as evidence.

Ornelas was sentenced to five years and three months in prison; Ornelas-Ledesma was sentenced to five years.

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