Is Possession of a Photo of Mexican Folk Saint Jesus Malverde Reasonable Suspicion of Drug Activity in Utah?

Jesus Malverde, a Mexican folk saint known as the “Narco-saint” is celebrated by many individuals including those involved in drug trafficking; for this reason, any memorial item of him may be add to an officer’s reasonable suspicion of drug activity.

Jesus Malverde, the good bandit

Photo by: beautiful hustler -[inworld] –>hotwetkitty

Jesus Malverde is a folk saint believed by some to have lived in Mexico in the late 19th century. Although he is known by most Roman Catholics throughout Mexico, he is not officially recognized as a saint by the church. Malverde was said to have been a “good bandit”, who through his short life was responsible for regularly stealing from the rich to give back to his deprived fellow countrymen. Following his death, many who memorialize Malverde as a saint credit their ability to heal from injuries and sickness or find lost items to his spiritual influence.

Twisted folklore

Just as any folklore, the story of Jesus Malverde has slowly become distorted, with some using his image and name for immoral purposes. Over the years, drug traffickers began to claim Malverde had regularly protected drug lords such as El Chapo as well as the Mexican drug cartel from being arrested or killed. A shrine to honor Jesus Malverde was erected in his birthplace of Sinaloa, Mexico and was funded almost entirely by the drug cartel. Memorabilia including photos, statues, jewelry, candles, and even soap has been created with Malverde’s name or photo for worshipers to purchase. Unfortunately, because the drug cartel has usurped Malverde’s name, being in possession of any of those collectibles could give authorities reasonable suspicion that someone is involved in drug activity.

Targeted for religious icon

Photo by: Drew Stephens

Since Jesus Malverde’s name was tainted by drug cartel, anyone sporting souvenirs with Malverde’s image or name could be watched more closely by law enforcement. There have been several drug cases in which Jesus Malverde memorabilia helped convince law enforcement of possible drug activity. Two that took place in Utah included:

• U.S. V. Lopez-Gutierrez. Lopez was pulled over in Cedar City, Utah for a traffic violation when police “observed one picture of Jesus Malverde affixed to the dashboard and another hanging from Lopez’s necklace. The officer recognized the images of Jesus Malverde, who is considered a patron saint by some drug traffickers.” The officer observed other suspicious items such as an air freshener, rose, and three cell phones; thus proceeding to further question Lopez. After a K9 alerted on the car, a search of the vehicle turned up distribution amounts of methamphetamine.

• State of Utah V. Alverez. Alverez was seen stopping at an apartment complex, only to return moments later. Police became suspicious and waited for Alverez to return the next day. After he returned and reentered the complex, an officer “observed a facsimile of Jesus Malverde” and that “ through interviews he had conducted, Jesus Malverde was the patron saint of drug dealing.” When Alverez returned to the vehicle, officer discussed his lack of vehicle insurance, questioned him about drug use, and then forcefully made Alverez open his mouth where he was hiding 15 rubber balloons filled with illegal drugs.

Reasonable suspicion

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Utah Code 77-7-15 states, “a peace officer may stop any person in a public place when he has a reasonable suspicion to believe he has committed or is in the act of committing or is attempting to commit a public offense and may demand his name, address and an explanation of his actions.” Reasonable suspicion differs from probable cause in that with reasonable suspicion, there doesn’t need to be evidence of a crime, only a hunch by a trained law enforcement officer. If an officer sees drugs in a car through a window or a door, that officer would have probable cause to search the vehicle. If the same officer instead saw an item such as a picture of Jesus Malverde in the vehicle who is known to be worshipped by many, including drug traffickers, the officer could question the suspect under the claim that the photo added to his reasonable suspicion of possible drug activity.

Religious persecution

The First Amendment to the Constitution reads “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ( . . . )”. Unless a religion give a valid cause for alarm such as a direct threat to the safety of the public, the separation of church and state should prohibit the government from determining what religion (or saint) citizens are allowed to worship without being accused of wrong-doing. By claiming souvenirs of Saint Jesus Malverde point to an increased chance of drug trafficking, the question of religious prosecution arises. Just because some who worship a religion or saint have criminal histories, not all who practice that religion or worship should be implicated as well. Just as not all Muslims are potential terrorists and not all white Christians are supremacists, it is unfair and unconstitutional to determine a person’s character or likelihood to commit a crime based on their choice of a religious icon.

Paranoid Man Transporting Methamphetamine Calls Police, Gets Busted for Intent to Distribute

A man transporting methamphetamine along I-15 in Utah became paranoid he had a tail and proceeded to call police, only to get busted for intent to distribute.

Attempt to locate not needed

Photo by: Hunter McGinnis

Photo by: Hunter McGinnis

The 27 year old man, who has yet to be identified due to a falsified passport, was transporting more than 36 pounds of methamphetamine in sealed food containers when he called police to report he was being followed. Police arrived to a location off of Interstate 15 where the man was patiently waiting for the officers to arrive. Upon further discussion with the man, police were unable to find evidence the man was being followed, yet he was notably under the influence of drugs. It was then they discovered he was transporting nearly half a million dollars’ worth of methamphetamine.

Don’t sample the merchandise

This isn’t the first time a person transporting drugs through Utah has voluntarily notified police to their whereabouts. Just last January, two men transporting over 20 pounds of marijuana from Nevada to Idaho along I-15 in Utah called police right after crossing the Utah-Idaho border. The incredibly stoned duo were convinced various cars on the road were actually undercover police officers preparing to arrest them. Instead of dealing with the anxiety of waiting to get busted, the 22 year old and 23 year old called the unsuspecting police to get things over with quickly.

Felony methamphetamine distribution

methamphetamine

Photo by: U.S. Customs and Border Protection

Drug possession charges in Utah can be severe, and distribution or intent to distribute charges are far worse. According to Utah Code 58-37-8, “It is unlawful for any person to knowingly and intentionally:

(i) produce, manufacture, or dispense, or to possess with intent to produce, manufacture, or dispense, a controlled or counterfeit substance;

(ii) distribute a controlled or counterfeit substance, or to agree, consent, offer, or arrange to distribute a controlled or counterfeit substance;

(iii) possess a controlled or counterfeit substance with intent to distribute; ( . . . )”

A person convicted of intent to distribute methamphetamine or other Schedule I or II substance is guilty of a second degree felony, or a first degree felony upon subsequent convictions. Those possessing enough marijuana to be considered intent to distribute can face a third degree felony or second degree felony upon a subsequent conviction.

Let someone else represent in court

For those who are facing possession or distribution charges in Utah, even if those charges came about due to self-incriminating phone calls to police, it is always recommended to speak to a reputable criminal defense attorney to speak in your behalf.

Drug Trafficking Charges for Utah Man Smuggling $300,000 Worth of Marijuana

A Cedar City Utah man was arrested for drug trafficking charges when Oklahoma police caught him smuggling $300,000 worth of marijuana through their state.

It all started with a traffic violation

Photo by: Highway Patrol Images

Photo by: Highway Patrol Images

68 year old Peter Dulfon of Cedar City, Utah was stopped along Interstate 40 in Oklahoma for numerous traffic violations when authorities realized there was more going on. Police took Dulfon into the squad car for questioning and when officers began to cite Dulfon for the traffic violations, he attempted to flee. Oklahoma police realized there was more to the story and ordered a K9 unit to the scene.

A trunk full of pot

When the K-9 unit arrived, the drug dog alerted police to the trunk which officers found full of duffle bags. Inside the bags were vacuum sealed pouches of marijuana, which authorities have estimated weighing between 80 and 120 pounds and had a $300,000 street value. Dulfon, who was originally stopped for traffic violations that would’ve ended with a ticket, was booked into jail on drug trafficking charges.

Drug trafficking in Oklahoma

Oklahoma has recently reduced the penalties for drug possession however drug trafficking and distribution charges are still harsh. Under Oklahoma state law, drug trafficking of more than 25 pounds of marijuana will result in a hefty fine ranging between $25,000 and $100,000 as well as four years to life in prison.

Drug Trafficking

Photo courtesy of: Canadian County (Oklahoma) Sheriff’s Office Facebook page

Had Dulfon been caught in Utah his fine would be far less, ranging at $5,000 to $10,000. Prison time in Utah would have been higher however; up to five years if he had less than 100 pounds of marijuana in his trunk and as much as 15 years in prison if the final weigh in of his stash exceeded 100 pounds.

Drug trafficking vs distribution

The charges Dulfon faced in Oklahoma were at a state level, and reflected the state’s penalties for distribution. Dulfon was charged with drug trafficking though. Although some may drug trafficking and distribution are one in the same, drug trafficking charges can go to federal court which means those convicted would be spending time in federal prison, not state. So what makes distribution charges become trafficking instead? There are two reasons in which a person would face drug trafficking charges as well as distribution. The first but not always the most common is when drug are sold over state lines. The most prevalent cause of federal drug trafficking charges however is not regarding the movement of the drugs, but the vast quantity the suspect allegedly intends to sell.

Federal drug trafficking penalties

According to the United States Drug Enforcement Administration’s Federal Trafficking Penalties, trafficking of less than 50 kilograms (110lbs) of marijuana may result in up to five years in federal prison as well as another fine of up to $250,000. If the amount is over 110 pounds, or 50 to 99 kilograms, that can result in up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine of $1 million dollars. Of course, these prison sentences and fine amounts can be increased for subsequent charges. Authorities mentioned Dulfon had a prior criminal record but failed to elaborate on that information. They only stated that “he’ll be put away for a long time.”

Consult an attorney

Photo by: Phillippe Put

Photo by: Phillippe Put

When it comes to facing distribution or drug trafficking charges in court, it is never recommended to go it alone. Regardless of whether or not defendants are first time offenders or if they have a lengthy criminal record, anyone who has been arrested for distribution or trafficking is strongly urged to consult with a criminal defense attorney to discuss the possible state and/or federal charges they may be facing.