All drug charges filed against a Duanesburg man were dismissed Wednesday after a pretrial ruling came out in his favor.
Robert L. Thomas Jr., 38, of Route 7, Duanesburg, was arrested Jan. 2 by state police after he was pulled over on the Thruway in Rotterdam. Thomas was stopped, according to police, because his license plate light didn’t work.
A subsequent search of the vehicle uncovered a backpack containing more than 300 hydrocodone pills and 29 oxycodone pills, both controlled medications not prescribed to Thomas. Police also seized nearly $2,000 in cash.
Thomas claimed the pills were his mother’s. The vehicle was also registered to her. He explained the $2,000 by saying he had just cashed a paycheck from his job as a landscaping contractor.
But he apparently won’t need to make those arguments at trial, because a judicial hearing officer in the case ruled the vehicle’s license plate light did work, and therefore the entire traffic stop was improper, making inadmissible anything found as a result.
According to the ruling by Judicial Hearing Officer Michael C. Eidens, Thomas was pulled over just after 10:30 p.m. Jan. 2, after he entered the Thruway at the Interstate 88 interchange. It was windy and cold with snow flurries.
The trooper testified Thomas’ plate was either dirty or obstructed, or the plate lights were out and he couldn’t see the numbers. The trooper then told Thomas he was pulled over because he didn’t have a license plate lamp.
As the stop unfolded, the trooper testified he smelled burned marijuana coming from the car. Thomas was the driver and his passenger allegedly admitted to smoking marijuana earlier in the day.
Troopers then searched the vehicle with Thomas’ permission, finding the backpack with the pills in the trunk; no marijuana was found.
Thomas was charged with second-degree and fifth-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. He was indicted on a count of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled stance and other drug-related counts.
His attorney, Paul DeLorenzo, argued at a July pre-trial hearing that troopers had no right to stop Thomas in the first place. To prove it, he used a video made as the vehicle was released from impound. The video showed the license plate was not obstructed, or dirty. Both plate lamps were also lit, though the right lamp was not as bright as the left.
Eidens agreed with the defense, finding the trooper had no reasonable cause to believe that under normal circumstances the plate could not be read at the proper distance. Therefore, the stop was improper.
In court Wednesday, prosecutors told the judge that they could not go forward with the case, resulting in Schenectady County Court Judge Karen Drago dismissing it. An appeal is not expected.
After the court appearance, Thomas said he was happy to have the case over.
“I feel great,” Thomas said. “I’m glad I got Paul for a lawyer.”
DeLorenzo said that, with the ruling, Thomas’ mother should get the pills back, though they may not press the issue. He said he does expect Thomas to get back the cash seized.
“It’s a good result,” DeLorenzo said. “The judge did a fine job.”