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Court: Justices of the peace can suppress evidence

CARSON CITY — Justices of the peace have authority to suppress illegally obtained evidence during preliminary hearings, the Nevada Supreme Court said Thursday.

Justices, in a unanimous opinion, granted a writ sought by LeCory Grace. The high court upheld a justice court ruling and reversed a finding by Clark County District Judge Douglas Herndon that justice courts lack authority to rule on suppression of evidence.

“We now conclude that justice courts have express and limited inherent authority to suppress illegally obtained evidence during preliminary hearings,” the Supreme Court ruled.

The ruling, written by Chief Justice Ron Parraguirre, noted the high court was not asked to examine the merits of the justice court’s suppression ruling “and we express no opinion on that matter.”

A criminal complaint filed in March 2014 in Las Vegas Justice Court charged Grace with one count of possession of a controlled substance after cocaine was allegedly found near his feet while officers were transferring him and others from Planet Hollywood Resort’s security office.

During the preliminary hearing, officer Allyn Goodrich said he was told Grace was arrested for a probation violation, though he did not witness the arrest and did not know the nature of the violation, according to court documents.

Goodrich said he watched another officer perform a search and saw a baggie with a white substance, later determined to be cocaine, around Grace’s foot.

At his preliminary hearing, Grace’s lawyers moved to suppress the cocaine as evidence, arguing the state failed to introduce evidence that the arrest was lawful in the first place and therefore officers were not entitled to search him.

Prosecutors countered the Justice Court lacked authority to hear and rule on suppression issues.

Justice of the Peace Eric Goodman granted Grace’s motion and dismissed the case for lack of probable cause. Prosecutors appealed to Herndon, who sent the case back to Goodman after ruling the Justice Court lacked authority to decide issues of evidence suppression.

Grace’s drug possession case was put on hold when the Clark County public defender’s office appealed to the Supreme Court.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com. Find@SandraChereb on Twitter.

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