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Judge Dismisses Lawsuit by Former Police Officer

Judge Dismisses Lawsuit by Former Police Officer



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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Three federal judges in Utah have heard challenges to searches made of homes after police -- without search warrants -- tested their front door handles for drug traces.

Two of the judges have ruled against the testing, while the third upheld it.

The latest ruling involved the case of Troy Levi Miller, 34, of South Salt Lake, who is charged with possessing a controlled substance and aiding in the manufacture and sale of methamphetamine.

A detective wiped a sterile cloth over Miller's doorknob last year. A test on the cloth allegedly revealed traces of methamphetamine, and those results helped a narcotics task force get a warrant to search the home.

U.S. District Judge Dale Kimball said the test violated the Fourth Amendment prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure.

A doorknob is part of the private area of a residence and the officer should have gotten the search warrant before taking the swab, Kimball said.

"A visitor could not turn the doorknob without invading the privacy of the home's occupants -- the only purpose for turning the doorknob is to gain access to the privacy of the home," the judge wrote in a June 30 decision. "A doorknob is not something that is transitory that could be borrowed, taken, or moved to another location. ... It is a component part of the home."

However, Kimball also decided there was enough other evidence, without the test results, to provide probable cause for the search warrant, and the charges against Miller remain in place.

U.S. District Judge Ted Stewart ruling in August that the test of an Ogden man's doorknob required a warrant. However, he upheld a search of Anthony Diviase Mora's home, saying other evidence provided probable cause.

A few months before, U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell refused to throw out evidence against Dennis Daybell of Magna obtained through a similar test. She said the procedure reveals nothing about the inside of a house and compared use of the machine to having a trained dog sniff for drugs.

(Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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