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Court of Appeals: seized pot can be used as evidence against St. Regis Falls man

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AKWESASNE - A federal appellate court has ruled that 124 pounds of marijuana allegedly seized from a St. Regis Falls man in 2010 can be used as evidence against him at trial.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, New York City, ruled Thursday the marijuana allegedly found Jan. 28, 2010, in the trunk of a car occupied by Eric C. Wilson is admissible as evidence in support of an indictment charging him with possessing with the intent to distribute 50 kilograms or more of the drug.

Mr. Wilson was charged in the town of Burke with having the marijuana in three hockey bags after officers of the Saint Regis Mohawk Police and the Akwesasne Mohawk Police Service allegedly saw his vehicle enter Canada from the United States through an unguarded and unmarked border crossing on River Road on the St. Regis Mohawk Reservation, and then return to the United States in the same manner.

U.S. District Court Judge David N. Hurd, Syracuse, suppressed the evidence based on a finding that the officers stopped the car beyond the reservation’s boundaries and that a detective sergeant with the St. Regis police, who was “cross-designated” as a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement customs officer, failed to comply with ICE approval procedures for the exercise of his authority as a customs officer. A cross-designated customs officer needs prior ICE authorization to exercise customs authority, but the detective sergeant did not obtain it in this case.

The higher court disagreed, according to the U.S. attorney’s office, reversing Judge Hurd’s ruling. The appellate court held that “the stop was justified by probable cause to believe that Wilson had entered the United States in violation of law” and that the detective sergeant was a validly designated customs officer authorized to stop Mr. Wilson’s car. The Court of Appeals also ruled that there was probable cause to search the car for marijuana allegedly smuggled over the border.

“The cross-designation of a Detective Sergeant of the Saint Regis Mohawk Police Department as a customs officer was crucial in this case,” U.S. Attorney Richard S. Hartunian said in a statement. “We will continue to collaborate with tribal authorities and federal, state, local and Canadian agencies to ensure that there are no gaps in law enforcement coverage on and around the Mohawk territory.”

The Court of Appeals remanded the case to District Court for the entry of an order denying Mr. Wilson’s motion to suppress the evidence. The case now will be set down for trial.

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