Last Modified: Sunday, October 28, 2012 11:04 PM
NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Citing a history of New Orleans police officers frisking people illegally, a state appeals court panel has thrown out a drug conviction that sent a man to prison for life.
The 4th Circuit Court of Appeal panel ruled a pair of police officers had no valid reason for patting down Jody Butler on a Central City street in 2010.
The Times-Picayune reported police arrested Butler, now 40, about noon on July 27, 2010, after stopping him on a bicycle at Seventh and Danneel streets, a notoriously hot corner for drug dealing.
Authorities had said officers Jemar Goines and Norbert Henry saw Butler leaning into an SUV, which they said sped off when the driver saw police. Butler road away on his bicycle and the officers chased and arrested him.
Goines had Butler place his hands on the police car, then patted him down. Reports show Goines found a plastic bag with what appeared to be marijuana in Butler's shoe. Officers then found several pieces of cocaine in Butler's hat and in his front pocket, testimony showed.
After Butler was read his rights, he told the officer that he had "messed up his day, he was going home and get high," Goines said.
Criminal District Judge Robin Pittman denied a motion by defense attorney Ariel Harmon to suppress the evidence, and a jury found Butler guilty of cocaine and marijuana possession.
After Butler appealed, District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro's office sought to have him sentenced under the state's habitual offender law.
Pittman sentenced Butler to life imprisonment.
The appeals court reversed the conviction.
"There is no evidence that the defendant was involved in any suspicious or illegal activity prior to the pat-down. In fact, the police officers specifically testified that they had a clear view of the defendant from a short distance and saw no interchange between the defendant and the occupants of the vehicle," the court said in its ruling.
The best suspicion the officers gave, the ruling said, was that Butler looked "kinda startled" when he saw the officers and rode off.