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.

Utah Mother Arrested Days After Seeking Help for Drug Addiction

A young Utah mother was arrested five days after reaching out to friends and family online along with a treatment center, seeking help for her drug addiction.

Arrested for drugs

Seeking Help for Drug Addiction

Photo Courtesy of Facebook

On April 9th, 2017 Provo police arrested 24 year old Arali Cabezas and an older male after they were found in a stolen car with several lifted identification documents as well as methamphetamine and several needles. Cabezas was booked into Utah County Jail on theft charges as well as two second degree felonies for receiving a stolen vehicle and possession of a schedule I controlled substance. Her bail is set at $12,500 and 11 days later she has yet to be released on bond.

Good person, bad choices

According to her Facebook page, Cabezas is a single parent and the mother of a little boy – 15 month old Kaison. Upon news of her arrest, friends and family commented shock and sadness, one of which said “part of recovery is having support, and she doesn’t have much of that. She really is an amazing girl inside and out and she is so dang smart, she just made some really dumb choices.” Another individual commented stating “when you are raised by two addicts and exposed to a life of drug use and abuse, and even taught how to use drugs by your parents, you don’t have much chance of doing any better in life.”

Seeking help for a drug addiction

Photo by: Max Baars

Photo by: Max Baars

According to her own Facebook page five days before her arrest, Cabezas was trying to do better. She swallowed her price and reached out for help with her drug addiction. She is quoted as saying “So I have a [question]. Do any of my friends have any information about The House of Hope? I will be looking it up and what not [too]. If you can let me know as soon as possible.” After receiving a handful of helpful comments, Cabezas stated that same day that she “called and left a message with admissions.” Five days later however she was arrested.

Drug treatment center

The House of Hope is drug treatment center located in Salt Lake City and Provo that focuses its care on women who may or may not be pregnant as well as mothers who have young children. As with other wonderful treatment centers for drug addiction, House of Hope is a non profit organization and offers many services such as outpatient care residential and day treatment. Had Cabezas found herself in the care of the House of Hope, it is likely she would have received substantial treatment for her drug addiction. There is no added information on whether or not Cabezas got cold feet and decided not to get help for her drug addiction or if she somehow slipped between the cracks, perhaps not receiving a call back from the  for help with her drug addiction. Either way, she was arrested five days later and now she sits in jail awaiting a court date. Cabezas faces a possibility of up to 15 years in prison for her drug and theft crimes; double that amount if she is convicted of both felonies and ordered to serve them consecutively, one right after the other.

Treatment for substance abuse

Photo by: Alan Cleaver

Photo by: Alan Cleaver

Utah residents who are struggling with drug addiction are encouraged to seek help just as Cabezas but be relentless and not give up. There are multiple programs throughout Utah aimed at helping residents recover from substance and alcohol abuse, and many of these programs are funded through the state. Those individuals who need help with addiction, but who are also facing criminal charges should contact a defense attorney who can help them work on defending or reducing charges while also ensuring that treatment is made available, whether voluntarily or mandatory. For more information, contact a criminal defense attorney.