Aug. 09--A Pennsylvania man who walked away from an Idaho State Police traffic stop, allegedly leaving 10 pounds of pot in his trunk, will not go to trial for trafficking marijuana.
Charges against Paul A. Pitonyak, 23, of Erie, Pa., were dismissed in 2nd District Court following a hearing last week in which defense attorney Jonathan Hally argued that his client was detained by police for an extended period without being arrested.
Hally asked the court to dismiss the case because of the circumstances that led to the seizure of the vehicle, and its subsequent search after being sniffed by a drug dog.
Pitonyak was stopped in October on U.S. Highway 12 by trooper Kenneth Yount, who wanted to assist what appeared to be an overheated vehicle in a wide spot along the roadway. Pitonyak, the car's driver, told the trooper he didn't require assistance. He was, however, prevented from leaving the scene on grounds that he appeared nervous and that his car was licensed in California, a known source of illegal drugs, according to court records.
When Pitonyak, who said the car was willed to him by a relative in California, could not provide proof of insurance, it took the trooper 20 minutes to issue a citation as he waited for a Lewis County drug dog to assist in the stop, Hally said.
The 23-year-old allegedly feigned an attempt to get cell service to prove insurance, but instead slipped away from police. He walked 10 miles through the forest to Orofino, where he was later arrested on drug charges. According to court records, suitcases containing 10 pounds of marijuana were allegedly found in Pitonyak's car after the Lewis County drug dog gave police reasonable cause for a search.
Prosecutors argued there was legal precedence to allow the search and send the case to trial. But 2nd District Judge Jay P. Gaskill sided with the defense, ruling that the trooper did not have a good enough reason to detain Pitonyak or his car for the approximately 45 minutes it took a drug dog to arrive on the scene.
The trooper initially stopped to aid and assist a motorist who appeared to have a disabled vehicle, Gaskill wrote in his decision.
"The stop was impermissibly extended when (the trooper) decided to cite Pitonyak for failing to have insurance, especially considering it took 20 minutes to issue the citation," Gaskill wrote. The stop was extended further as the trooper waited for the drug dog to arrive.
In addition, the trooper acted on a "mere hunch," that Pitonyak might be transporting illegal drugs, the judge wrote.
Lonnie Richardson, the patrol and investigations captain of the state police's Region 2 office in Lewiston, said the case was intricate, and his officer would likely proceed in a similar fashion if he had to do it over again.
"For us, it was a complicated case that had a lot of twists and turns," Richardson said. "It doesn't change what we do."
Bartholdt can be contacted at [email protected] or (208) 848-2275.
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