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Federal Defendant Claims Privacy After Meth Found In Mailed Package

8th Circuit Court

In May 2018 a postal worker at Saint Francis saw a baggie of white powder that had fallen out of a broken package.

Rosebud Sioux Tribal Police field-tested the contents and soon after arrested the intended recipient. In preparation for trial, the defendant asked the judge to suppress the evidence, claiming the government conducted an illegal search.

The issue went before the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals last week.

A resident of Saint Francis is facing charges involving methamphetamine found in a package at the local post office.

In pretrial activity, 49-year-old Steven William Emery asked a federal judge to throw out the evidence. The judge denied his request, and Emery then asked the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals to rule before the case continues.

At oral arguments, public defender Jason Tupman says the bag of meth didn’t just fall out of the package. He says the tribal police report indicated there was a boxed toy car inside the package, and the meth fell out after the postal employee removed the toy from its box.

“It is the government’s burden of proof to prove that it came open under some non-negligent, non-intentional means, and I don’t think they’ve met that burden here.”

Tupman says the post office has a right to refuse to ship a package, but in this case, it did not. He says the sealed package was accepted for shipment, and his client had the expectation it would remain private.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Elmore says the postal employee testified at the suppression hearing that the package was unintentionally damaged.

"It’s been the position of the government that the contents spilled out and were in plain view.”

He says the postal employee carried the package and its contents into a back room and called tribal police. Captain Iver Crow Eagle and another officer responded.

“I recall the words of Captain Crow Eagle, when he arrived in that back room, was that it was immediately apparent that there was a big bag of meth sitting on the table.

Elmore says Emery did not have an expectation of privacy or property interests after the contents fell to the floor.

And he says law officers do not have an obligation to look the other way when that happens.

Judges will hand down an opinion later. This is an interim appeal, and so Emery is innocent until proven guilty. He remains in custody pending trial.